UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Maybe it’s because the building is so small or because the roof is so low, but when you walk into Nassau Coliseum, your eyes are immediately drawn up to the rafters, where brightly colored orange, blue and white banners tell the story of the Islanders’ glory days.
Chasing another banner of their own, the Lightning have played well on the road during these Stanley Cup playoffs. They quieted loud crowds in Florida and Carolina, but the Coliseum is different. The fans are raucous and relentless, chanting and cheering throughout the game, and the size of the building makes it feel like they’re right on top of the ice.
With the Islanders playing their last games in the Coliseum before moving into a new building at Belmont Park, sentiment was on the Islanders’ side Thursday night.
But the Lightning are trying to make their own history by winning back-to-back titles, and they took control of their semifinal series with a 2-1 win in Game 3.
“These guys, they’re hungry,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They’re a hungry group. And I give them all the credit in the world, especially with what happened last year and to keep having that will to win, it’s good on them.”
Tampa Bay won its fourth straight playoff game on the road and improved its record away from Amalie Arena this postseason to 6-1.
The backbone of the Lightning’s success on the road has been defense. They know how to close out low-scoring, one-goal games. They’re doing it without much offense: Over their road winning streak, they’re only averaging two goals a game.
But Cooper routinely says that the moment the Lightning acquired a championship mentality was when they realized winning is about the number of goals you keep out of the net, not the number you put in.
“It’s everyone buying into the system,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We know what our job is. We talked about it in between the second and third. We’ve got a one-goal lead going into the third period of a playoff game, we know what we have to do. And we’ve done it time and time again.
“This group is comfortable in these situations. This time of the year, it’s guys doing whatever it takes to win, and that’s the most important thing. And when you have a complete buy in, you know you get results like we’re getting right now.”
The Islanders were resilient, creating 34 scoring chances in the second and third periods combined.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky stopped 27 of 28 shots, the only goal he allowed on a puck defenseman Erik Cernak tried to tap back to Vasilevskiy in traffic but when through him. Vasilevskiy has a 1.58 goals against average and .953 save percentage on the road this postseason.
The Lightning blocked 21 shots, getting blocks from 11 different players. And despite mustering very little offense in the third — they had just five shots in the period and didn’t have their first until nine minutes in — the Lightning held off the Islanders even as their defensemen had extended shifts. Jan Rutta and Cernak left the game in the final minutes with stingers.
“You look at the Islanders’ game and they defend so well, as well,” said center Brayden Point, whose late second-period goal stood as the winner. “They don’t give you much time and space, and you think that’s their mindset too, is taking care of their end, so we’ve got to make sure we take care of ours and not fuel their skill.”
After the Islanders evened the score at 1 with 2:59 left in the second period, Point’s goal with 17.4 seconds left in the period quieted the Coliseum crowd.
Point has goals in six straight games, but Thursday’s score was unlike the others. The Lightning were just coming off their first power play — their first unit still on the ice after skating the entire man-advantage — when Victor Hedman put a shot on goal from the high slot. The puck kicked out to Point, who swung it back toward the net while getting pushed from behind by Islanders forward Casey Cizikas through traffic and into the back of the net.
“They really limited us,” Point said. “I know the puck just took a good bounce and it landed right on my stick, and so it’s a lucky one.””
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