TAMPA, Fla. — The chance for the Islanders to take charge of Game 2 came and went early. Three first-period power plays, two in the first 8:07, gave the Isles a chance to take a quick lead and then get a quick tying goal against the Lightning.
But Tampa’s penalty killers set the tone, getting to pucks quicker. And with Tampa goals soon after each power play finished, the Islanders were in a hole they could not get out of.
The 4-1 loss to the Lightning on Saturday that evened this Eastern Conference semifinal at 1-1 was hardly a dagger, given that the Isles got a split here and head home for Tuesday’s Game 3 very much in this series.
But even with a power-play goal in the first period, the Islanders special teams felt a bit like a disappointment in Game 2, especially with a chance to set the pace early.
“We ended up getting the power-play goal but if you look at the game as a whole, our power play probably ended up letting us down a little bit,” said Thomas Hickey, whose slap shot was deflected home by Nikolay Kulemin to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 4:45 to go in the first. “As a group, we’ve got to be better. They did a good job killing, but especially the early ones sucked some life out of us.”
The Islanders were definitely the better team in the opening 20 minutes, permitting only five Lightning shots. But they barely got anything going with their first power play at 3:12, with Ondrej Palat sent off for tripping Nick Leddy in the Isles zone, and Tampa’s speed demons struck quickly the Isles’ power play expired.
Palat and Tyler Johnson came in 2-on-1 after Leddy and Cal Clutterbuck collided at the Lightning blue line. Johnson swept a backhand between Thomas Greiss’ legs at 6:03, the seventh time in the Islanders’ eight playoff games that they’ve allowed the first goal — and the fifth time that first goal has come in the opening 6:03.
The Islanders had a chance to quickly shake it off, as they did in Game 1 when they turned an early 1-0 deficit into a commanding 3-1 lead after a period. Ryan Callahan was whistled for holding Kyle Okposo at 8:07, but again the Lightning penalty killers were aggressive and the Islanders had few answers.
At 11:55, Jonathan Drouin snuck a backhand between Greiss’ pads and the uphill climb got steeper.
“I think our guys were really prepared for how aggressive they are and how they kill, but that said, you have to be dialed in,” coach Jack Capuano said. “I don’t know if we were a little lackadaisical on our power play early but it definitely gave them some momentum. Our guys were prepared but we didn’t do much. I think our guys tried to overhandle the puck a bit.”
Given a third power play when Brian Boyle sent the puck over the glass, Kulemin’s neat deflection got the Isles going. And the remaining 4:45 of the first was as dominating a sequence as the Islanders have had this postseason, cycling furiously around Ben Bishop as the period wound down.
“Too bad the period ended there, we had them hemmed in,” John Tavares said.
But the power plays started to even out in the second and Tampa got a power-play score of its own at 11:59 when Victor Hedman’s one-timer banked off Calvin de Haan’s skate and past Greiss to restore the two-goal lead.
The Islanders went rather meekly in the third period, putting only three shots on Bishop and just eight total in the final 40 minutes. Johnson sealed it into the empty net with 2:18 remaining, ensuring the Isles will be back here on Mother’s Day for Game 5.
There’s a few things to work on before Tuesday.
“We’ve got to come up with some speed, some numbers, have guys going to the net,” Tavares said. “We’ve got to shoot some pucks and when there’s plays there we have to make them. It sounds simple but it’s a matter of executing.”