The Tampa Bay Lightning provided a reminder why they’re the defending champions, taking Game 2 of the Stanley Cup semifinals against the New York Islanders 4-2 on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena to tie the series at one game apiece.
Nikita Kucherov tallied three assists while Victor Hedman — who killed the Islanders in last year’s Eastern Conference Final — scored his first goal of the playoffs in a two-point night.
They were enabled by an uncharacteristically loose Islanders showing that featured five penalties — offering plenty of opportunities for the high-powered Lightning to find a groove after they were shut down in Game 1.
The Islanders played from the back foot almost immediately when Ryan Pulock was called for a high stick shortly after Scott Mayfield and Patrick Maroon tangled up for simultaneous penalties — leaving the Islanders on the wrong end of a 4-on-3 for over a minute.
With an abundance of open ice, the Lightning worked a huge chance to Kucherov to the glove side of Semyon Varlamov, but the Islanders netminder’s hand was quick enough to block a rebound chance at the doorstep.
Kucherov made up for it with a brilliant pass from behind the net after an Adam Pelech turnover in the Islanders zone, sending a quick set-up to Brayden Point, who popped his second goal of the series over Varlamov 8:58 into the first period.
The Islanders quickly earned a power play of their own and worked a big chance for Kyle Palmieri from the right goal line, but his effort was saved by the sprawling glove of Andrei Vasilevskiy — the Vezina finalist’s heroics allowing the Lightning to stay in the driver’s seat on Tuesday night.
With 6:50 remaining in the first, the Islanders were forced to change goaltenders after Varlamov was barreled into by Point, who was shoved into that position by Pelech.
In stepped Ilya Sorokin in relief while the officials unjustifiably assessed a penalty on Point, where the Islanders made them pay. It took just 20 seconds as a pass in front from Josh Bailey was deflected into the path of Nelson, who snapped a wrister home to tie it up.
As frustrations boiled over and frustrations grew, Matt Martin and Patrick Maroon dropped the gloves just 15 seconds after Nelson’s goal.
Scrums and fracases became commonplace through the end of the first while Sorokin was thrown into the fire, stopping all six shots that came his way in the final six minutes of the frame.
Varlamov was able to return for the second period and looked as though he didn’t miss a beat, having to make a save on a breakaway from Yanni Gourde while the Lightning were killing an early slashing penalty by Blake Coleman.
Midway through the period, Noah Dobson nearly caught the Lightning napping after the Islanders won a face-off in the Tampa zone. The young defenseman was untouched down the right wing while cutting to Vasilevskiy’s goal, but his in-close chance grazed off the crossbar.
With 6:45 to go in the period, the Lightning re-took the lead after a looping pass from deep in Tampa’s zone from Hedman found Kucherov at the Islanders’ blue line. He held off the defense long enough to find a streaking Ondrej Palat uncovered as he snapped a wrister from between the dots past Varlamov off the post and in.
The problem was that the Lightning had six skaters on the ice that went unnoticed, prompting Barry Trotz to get in the ears of the officials who missed the too-many-men penalty.
As the period wound down, the Islanders worked out one more chance after a pass from the point was deflected to Josh Bailey, who set up Anthony Beauvillier between the dots, but his chance was turned away by the pads of Vasilevskiy.
Just 2:16 into the third period, the Lightning doubled their lead when Jan Rutta’s seeing-eye slapshot from the left point sailed over Varlamov’s blocker side and into the top corner.
After a pair of Travis Zajac penalties, the Lightning extended their lead through Victor Hedman, who got his first goal of the postseason on their second man advantage in four minutes to put Tampa up 4-1 with 10:43 to go.
After letting a 4-on-3 man advantage fall by the wayside, the Islanders carved out a consolation goal when Mathew Barzal followed home a rebound with 3:16 remaining.
With the goalie pulled and with a 6-on-5 advantage, a timid Islanders side showed little urgency to put the puck on Vasilevskiy’s goal down the stretch, allowing Tampa to see Game 2 out.