The playoff atmosphere and angst was there, but the New York Islanders’ play ultimately wasn’t as they were beaten 4-1 loss by the Tampa Bay Lightning — the team that eliminated them in each of the previous two Stanley Cup semifinals — on Sunday afternoon at UBS Arena.
Brock Nelson’s team-leading 31st goal to open the scoring was answered by four unanswered Lightning goals — the first two on New York netminder Ilya Sorokin before his strong afternoon was cut short after two periods due to an upper-body injury, according to head coach Barry Trotz.
It is unclear whether or not he’ll miss time.
Semyon Varlamov gave up another two in a third period that saw the Islanders dominated by the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions while being outshot 14-6.
It caps off a disappointing back-to-back slate in which they were soundly defeated 6-2 by the Bruins in Boston on Saturday afternoon while snapping a six-game home win streak.
New York was on its heels early, allowing six shots in the first 2:32 of play. Sharpness from Sorokin allowed the Islanders to stabilize — thanks to a scuffle sparked by Matt Martin that led to a fight between Ross Johnston and Patrick Maroon — as they outshot Tampa Bay 8-3 over the final 17 minutes.
One of those shots during that run provided the opening goal of the game, as Nelson remained red-hot in the month of March with a snipe over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove with 1:46 to go in the frame. He led a three-on-one rush down the right wing and opted to keep it himself — the right decision considering his torrid run of form. The 30-year-old continues to build on his career season with his 31st of the campaign in just his 55th game, including his 12th in March.
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The Lightning found an equalizer just 1:10 into the second period on the power play when star defenseman Victor Hedman snuck a wrister from a tough angle at the right face-off circle under the arm of Sorokin and into the back of the net. The goal set a new career-high for the 2018 Norris winner with 18.
He nearly had a second on the power play moments later after Anders Lee went off for a trip, but the post saved Sorokin off a slapper from the point.
Tampa would take the lead at the 9:47 mark when Alex Killorn poked a centering pass on a rush from Anthony Cirelli into the back of the net.
The Islanders looked as though they tied it up when Jean-Gabriel Pageau snuck a backhander past Vasilevskiy, but Kyle Palmieri — who sparked the play at the blue line — entered the Lightning’s zone offside, which nullified the goal upon review.
“It’s a tie game, it’s 2-2 instead of 2-1,” Pageau said. “It changes the momentum. Does it change our game plan? No. I thought we were playing with emotion this time.”
“What can you do, right? It’s a part of the game that you challenge it and it ends up offsides,” Anthony Beauvillier added. “We thought it was a big goal to tie it up. But it can’t be a turning point. We have to get back at it and try and find another one.
“It’s whatever. You have to give them credit. Frustrating game, frustrating result. “
The Lightning put it out of reach in the third period off Varlamov, who appeared in goal to start the frame as Sorokin did not return to the bench, indicating that there had been an injury to the star netminder.
He conceded a pair of close-range goals, though his defense did little to clear the danger away from his crease. The first came from Ross Colton 9:10 into the frame before Mikhail Sergachev muscled a backhander through Varlamov with 3:04 to go in regulation.
“It honestly sucked the air out of our bench for a while,” Trotz said. “The third one was the big one… That sort of put a dent in us right there.”