Brayden Point’s speed can be a difference-maker for the Lightning in myriad ways. It puts defensemen on their heels, creates scoring opportunities seemingly out of nowhere and changes momentum.
In games and, sometimes, series.
But never has it had the kind of impact it did Tuesday night.
Cross-checked from behind by Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech during a first-period rush up ice, Point crashed face-first into the mask of New York goaltender Semyon Varlamov, knocking the net off its moorings.
The collision had two direct consequences: Point — inexplicably — was called for goaltender interference, and Varlamov left the ice for observation.
And one indirect one: Brock Nelson scored on the power play 20 seconds later to tie the score at 1.
The play could have altered the outcome of the game and, potentially, the series. For either team.
But Varlamov returned in the second period, and the Lightning, who scored the next three goals, bounced back in a 4-2 win they had to have.
Entering the game trailing in a series for the first time this postseason, the Lightning improved to 11-0 over the past two years (4-0 this season) in playoff games following a loss.
They played with more intensity than in Game 1, managed the puck more effectively and got standout performances from their stars to tie the Stanley Cup semifinal series at one game apiece.
The bad call could have sent Tampa Bay reeling. Instead, it showed its resilience.
Grade: F for the call, A for the Lightning’s response
Here’s how we graded the rest of Tampa Bay’s performance in Game 2:
Right wing Nikita Kucherov didn’t score, but he might have been the most impactful player on the ice, setting up three of the Lightning’s four goals.
He had the primary assist on Point’s opening goal with a no-look pass from below the goal line. Kucherov made the play possible by first pressuring Pelech, who had the puck behind the net. Pelech tried to rim the puck around the boards, but it was corralled by Lightning defenseman David Savard above the right circle.
Savard shot the puck back around the boards to Kucherov, who passed to Point at the edge of the crease. Point’s one-timer beat Varlamov under the left arm to open the scoring just under nine minutes into the game.
Kucherov set up Ondrej Palat’s go-ahead goal in the second period after being sprung by a long stretch pass from Victor Hedman. Kucherov skated to the left circle, circled back, reversed direction to buy time, drawing two defenders to him, then passed to a wide-open Palat in the low slot.
Kucherov later set up Hedman’s third-period power-play goal with a cross-seam pass. The least stylistic of Kucherov’s passes might have been the most damaging, giving Tampa Bay an insurmountable three-goal lead.
All told, the top line of Palat (goal, five shots), Point (goal, two shots) and Kucherov (three assists, two shots) combined for two goals, five points and nine shots on goal.
The Lightning showed from the start they weren’t going to allow the Islanders to push them around.
Just over three minutes into the game, Scott Mayfield repeatedly bumped Pat Maroon as he made his way down the ice, then rode him hard into the boards. Maroon took Mayfield down to the ice, and the two received offsetting penalties. Later in the period, Maroon dropped his gloves to fight Matt Martin.
Yanni Gourde, Ross Colton, Erik Cernak, Tyler Johnson and Anthony Cirelli were among the many other Tampa Bay players who showed they weren’t afraid to get physical during (or after) the game.
The Lightning seemed to lack intensity in their Game 1 loss but showed plenty of energy at the start of Game 2, getting into the Islanders’ faces, meeting every challenge and presenting a number of their own.
Good as Gourde
Yanni Gourde was back to his pesky self, flying around the ice, creating turnovers and using his speed to win puck battles, get to open ice and generate scoring chances.
He was at his best during a second-period penalty kill. Gourde got loose for a shorthanded breakaway after a Noah Dobson turnover just inside the Tampa Bay blue line. Gourde was stopped by Varlamov but took precious time off the clock. He twice cleared the puck out of the Lightning zone later on the kill.
In the third, Gourde took down Leo Komarov along the boards after Komarov went after Hedman. As Komarov left for the locker room after receiving a game misconduct, Gourde triumphantly skated to the penalty box to serve his roughing minor, to the delight of the nearly 15,000 fans at Amalie Arena.
Back on track
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy put an uneven Game 1 behind him with another great postseason performance, stopping 24 of 26 shots.
Early in the game, he stopped a Travis Zajac chance from in front of the net after a shot-pass from Josh Bailey, then stretched to his left to glove Kyle Palmieri’s rebound attempt for what might have been the save of the game.
Vasilevskiy’s timeliest save might have been his left pad stop on Anthony Beauvillier from low in the slot in the closing seconds of the second period after a sneaky pass from Bailey to preserve the Lightning’s one-goal lead.
First time for everything
There was a lot of chatter before the game about the fact the Lightning hadn’t gotten a goal from a defenseman this postseason.
Jan Rutta put an end to the talk by scoring through traffic from the right point early in the third period. The goal was Rutta’s first-ever postseason goal and first goal of any kind since Dec. 14, 2019.
Hedman added to the defense’s goal total later in the period, scoring through Varlamov’s legs from the left circle on the power play to give Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead.
Grade: Double-A, for the D
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