TAMPA — After dropping their league semifinal opener to the Islanders, the Lightning realized the uphill climb falling into a 2-0 hole in the series would create.
But they know how to rebound from a loss in the postseason. After spending the day between games immersed in film study, they were a much hungrier team in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
They skated faster, won puck battles and were quicker to loose pucks, allowing them to own the possession game. And throughout a physical game that included its share of post-whistle fisticuffs, the Lightning kept their cool and buried their scoring opportunities
They evened the series with a 4-2 win over the Islanders at Amalie Arena, improving their record to 11-0 coming off a loss over the past two playoffs.
“That’s what we pride ourselves in,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “In the playoffs, it’s tough to lose two in a row, so when you lose one game, you want to get back at it, and (Tuesday) was a good example of a hungry team and getting ready to come out there to battle and play the way we wanted to play.”
Wing Ondrej Palat’s goal with 6:45 remaining in the second period broke a nine-game goalless streak and gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Wing Nikita Kucherov — whose three assists gave him a league-leading 22 postseason points — received a stretch pass from Hedman through two Islanders players. But instead of taking the puck to the net, he circled back to the top of the left circle, cut back toward the dot and pinpointed a pass between two Islanders sticks to the trailing Palat, who beat goalie Semyon Varlamov stick side.
Replays showed that the Lightning had too many men on the ice, but it went uncalled.
That wasn’t the only miscall of the game.
In the first period, Lightning center Brayden Point got behind the Islanders’ defense with the puck but was pushed from behind by Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech, sending Point into a collision with Varlamov in the net.
When the dust cleared, Varlamov had to leave the game and Point was assessed a goalie interference penalty, much to the chagrin of the announced 14,771 fans.
Just 20 seconds later, Islanders forward Brock Nelson scored on the power play to tie the score at 1, and the boos from the home crowd grew louder.
“We all saw a call,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the penalty. “It was a tough one, a tough decision for the refs to make. You have to manage your emotions in those situations. I thought the guys did a great job just staying in the fight because calls aren’t going to go your way. But you have to stay the course.”
Palat’s go-ahead goal was equally bothersome for Islanders coach Barry Trotz.
“That one hurt quite a bit, because if they get the third one, there’s a little bit more separation,” he said. “And obviously as you guys know, there were too many men on the ice. They had seven guys, so disappointed at that. But we tried to battle through that. We can be a lot better, and we will be. We knew we would have their A game.”
The Lightning distanced themselves on third-period goals from Jan Rutta and Hedman, the first scores from defensemen this postseason.
Point gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 8:58 into the first period with his league-best 10th goal of the postseason.
Shortly after Point’s goal, Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made a pair of impressive saves to protect the lead, turning away forward Travis Zajac’s shot with a well-timed kick save and then stopping forward Kyle Palmieri’s rebound with a sweeping glove save that closed off the far post.
Vasilevskiy, who had 24 saves, made another lead-saving kick save on forward Anthony Beauvillier with seven seconds left in the second.
“He’s supercompetitive, and he doesn’t like to lose,” Kucherov said of Vasilevskiy. “He made some huge saves for us, and I think he kept us in the game in the first period on that first power play with the save on Palmieri. He’s been unreal.”
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 10 (Savard, Kucherov), 8:58. 2, N.Y. Islanders, Nelson 7, 13:30 (pp). Penalties—Maroon, TB (Holding), 3:15; Mayfield, NYI (Roughing), 3:15; Pulock, NYI (High Sticking), 4:16; Stamkos, TB (Slashing), 9:23; Point, TB (Interference), 13:10; Maroon, TB (Fighting), 13:45; Martin, NYI (Fighting), 13:45; Komarov, NYI (Interference), 16:28.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Palat 3 (Hedman, Kucherov), 13:15. Penalties—Coleman, TB (Slashing), 3:29.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Rutta 1 (Goodrow, Coleman), 2:16. 5, Tampa Bay, Hedman 1 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 9:17 (pp). 6, N.Y. Islanders, Barzal 5 (Eberle, Leddy), 16:44. Penalties—Zajac, NYI (Interference), 4:41; Zajac, NYI (Slashing), 8:09; Gourde, TB (Roughing), 10:55; N.Y. Islanders bench, served by Martin (Unsportsmanlike Conduct), 10:55; Komarov, NYI (Misconduct), 10:55; Cernak, TB (Slashing), 11:09; Beauvillier, NYI (Roughing), 13:50; Zajac, NYI (Roughing), 20:00; Cirelli, TB (Roughing), 20:00; Goodrow, TB (Roughing), 20:00; Zajac, NYI (Roughing), 20:00.
Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 10-7-9_26. Tampa Bay 17-8-8_33. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 1 of 5. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Varlamov 5-3-0 (27 shots-23 saves), N.Y. Islanders, Sorokin 4-1-0 (6-6). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 8-4-0 (26-24). T—2:45. Referees—Dan O’Rourke, Francois St. Laurent. Linesmen—Michel Cormier, Ryan Gibbons.
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