UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Ryan McDonagh made the most of the final chaotic seconds of Saturday’s game against the Islanders, and it made for the wildest ending of the Lightning’s postseason.
Down a goal and with the puck on his stick in the left circle, the defenseman drew goaltender Semyon Varlamov out of the crease and spun to avoid Brock Nelson, who was diving in front of him to block any forehand chance McDonagh might have.
While falling down, McDonagh unloaded a backhanded shot that seemed destined for the back of the net and about to send the game to overtime.
That’s until Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock dove across an empty net for a game-saving block, sending the Nassau Coliseum crowd into an uproar and the Lightning to a 3-2 loss in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup semifinals.
“Probably made for some pretty exciting TV, I’ll tell you that,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But yeah, that was a bit of a heart-stopper at the end. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”
The Lightning were that close to an incredible comeback from three goals down entering the third period. Though it took an amazing play to deny them overtime, it was sloppy play earlier in the game that dug them into their biggest deficit of the postseason.
“We didn’t execute,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “They were the better team, and when you give up three goals in a period, it’s not good enough. We pushed them in the third, but you shouldn’t be in that position to start with, and we know that. It’s all about taking the positive side of the third and go home and compete like that for 60 (minutes).”
The series will go back to Tampa tied at two games apiece. Game 5 is Monday at 8 p.m. at Amalie Arena.
“That doesn’t happen to us too often,” Cooper said. “That was red rotten in that second period. ... But you know what, we’re a glove save away from probably still playing right now. But you know, we can’t play 40 (minutes), we’ve got to play 60.”
The Islanders’ first goal, forward Josh Bailey’s score 5:30 into the second, was a result of a Ross Colton turnover. Lightning forward Brayden Point lost his stick in a puck battle before the second goal, leaving him helpless when Mathew Barzal had an open net on a rebound with 6:14 left in the period.
And the eventual game-winning goal, fourth-liner Matt Martin’s score with 2:03 left in the period, came during a defensive lapse that saw the Islanders unload three shots from far away over a three-second stretch, ending with Martin’s backhanded rebound past Andrei Vasilevskiy (27 saves). The Lightning challenged the goal, wanting an offsides call, but the goal stood.
Third-period goals by Point and Tyler Johnson cut the Islanders’ lead to one, but a late tripping call on Hedman put the Lightning at a man disadvantage for the remaining 1:12 of regulation.
The Islanders tried to milk the clock after that, but the Lightning were able to get the puck into the offensive zone in the final 30 seconds. Ondrej Palat got the puck off the far wall, and Nikita Kucherov threaded a pass from the end line to McDonagh at the left circle.
“Desperation play by by their defenseman,” Cooper said. “But to be honest, I thought the play that Mac made was better than the save. It’s hard for McDonagh to get that (shot) up. Just to get the puck on the net was a phenomenal play, played both by Kuch and Mac.”
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