TAMPA, Fla. — The Islanders haven’t been this far in the playoffs before, but they’re quick learners. In Game 1 of their conference semifinal against the Lightning Wednesday night, the Isles weren’t fazed by much.
Not another quick goal surrendered early in the game. Not a late Tampa rally that forced Thomas Greiss into some real acrobatics. Not even seeing coach Jack Capuano leave the bench for eight minutes late in the third after taking a puck to the face.
The Isles took advantage of a shaky start from Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop and held on for a 5-3 win, grabbing Game 1 as they did in the opening round against the Panthers.
“There’s a benefit to having gone through some things already this playoffs,” said Cal Clutterbuck, who secured the win with an empty-net goal with 54.8 seconds to play. “We gave one up in the first five minutes, same as we did in Game 1 last round, but we know we can come back so it’s not an issue. We’re learning what it takes to put the bad moments behind us.”
That quick goal from Tampa’s Ondrej Palat at 3:05 of the opening period, sent the Amalie Arena crowd into a frenzy. But the Islanders got a gift from Bishop at 5:44 when Travis Hamonic’s soft wrister from along the wall eluded the Lightning goaltender and trickled over the goal line to even the game.
And a makeshift line turned the game in the final 2:32 of the first. Brock Nelson, who began the game centering Nikolay Kulemin and Steve Bernier, swapped spots with Frans Nielsen to play between Shane Prince and Ryan Strome.
That line’s first shift produced the Isles first lead. Nelson worked the puck from Lightning defenseman Matt Carle and Strome fed Prince, who had time to set up a lemonade stand in front of Bishop. Prince shoveled the puck between Bishop’s pads.
On that line’s next shift, in the closing seconds of the first, Strome circled the Tampa net and found Prince alone again for a quick shot past Bishop with 2.1 seconds to go for a surprising 3-1 lead.
“Especially with the quick turnaround we had for Game 1, I thought we did a lot of good things,” Capuano said.
John Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Bishop on the power play at 8:59 of the second to chase the Tampa goaltender after four goals on 13 shots. The Islanders turned to Greiss after that.
The unsung goaltender continued his strong play from the opening round, denying two chances late in the second and a flurry of good opportunities in the third before Tampa broke through. He made two terrific stops on Nikita Nesterov with the Isles up 4-2 among his 33 saves.
“When you can chase their goaltender, it gives you some confidence,” Greiss said. “They’re such a fast team offensively, you know they’re going to get chances. We just had to hold them off.”
Nikita Kucherov beat Greiss at 7:41 of the third to cut the Isles lead to 4-2 and Valtteri Filppula flipped a second try over Greiss with 2:32 to go, just as Capuano returned to the bench.
The Lightning had an offensive-zone draw with 1:40 to go and the net empty, but did not get off another good shot. Clutterbuck blocked a chance from the right circle before Kulemin forced the puck out and Casey Cizikas fed Clutterbuck to salt it away.
“We’ve been there before,” Clutterbuck said. “We were playing a good first period and we didn’t get away from that, then we just tried to play smart all the way to the end.”