TAMPA — The Islanders came into the Stanley Cup semifinal series against the Lightning well aware that they were going up against one of the best power plays in the NHL.
Prior to Game 1, the message to stay out of the box was clear, which the Isles managed to do until the end of the second period and the final second of the third.
The goal of limiting the amount of penalties taken was reiterated heading into Game 2, but the Islanders found themselves on the penalty kill five times — three coming in the third period — on the way to a 4-2 loss Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.
“We’ve talked about staying out of the box,” said Brock Nelson, whose power-play goal in the first made it a 1-1 game. “Five is probably too many. We’ve touched on it; they’ve got a lot of skill over there — and weapons. You give them five looks on the power play, they’re going to get some good looks. You give them five and you’re going to have to rely on your goaltender making some big saves and getting a lot of blocks.”
Luckily for the Isles, the Lightning were only able to capitalize on one of their five man-advantage opportunities. Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov was to thank for that. But when Travis Zajac took a seat in the box for the second time in the span of roughly 3 ¹/₂ minutes in the third period, the Lightning’s Victor Hedman ultimately capitalized for the 4-1 lead.
“Tonight we kept them at 20 percent, which is half the rate that they usually hit at,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the loss, which evened the Stanley Cup semifinal series 1-1 heading back to Long Island. “We just can’t take that many. [Tampa] were taking some liberties tonight, but it’s a long series.”
When the Islanders had to kill a four-on-three Lightning power play in the first period, with Matt Martin and Ryan Pulock in the box, Varlamov absolutely robbed Nikita Kucherov on the doorstep. Varlamov stood tall as it transitioned to a five-on-four disadvantage, coming up with five saves over that span.
Heading into Game 3, the Lightning own a 39.5 power-play percentage in the playoffs. During the regular season, they were the ninth most-productive man-advantage unit in the league. The Islanders may be one of the better defensive teams in the league, but their penalty kill hasn’t been as strong as it was in the regular season during this playoff run.
Trotz said Jean-Gabriel Pageau “tweaked something” during the game and that’s why he held the Islanders’ third-line center out for the final 14 minutes of regulation.
“When they got their fourth goal, I said ‘you know what, he’ll be fine for the rest of the series so I’m not going to put him in any danger’. I fully expect him to be in the next game.”
The teams combined for 54 penalty minutes, while each registered one power-play goal.