The New York Islanders’ offense suddenly has as much rust as the rafters of Nassau Coliseum during its 28-year wait to host a Stanley Cup semifinal game.
Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 3 from the “Old Barn” on Hempstead Turnpike — the venue’s first semifinal game since 1993 — with a 2-1 victory on Thursday night behind 28 saves and 21 blocked shots from the defensemen in front of him.
It’s the third-straight game that the Islanders have been held to two goals or fewer as they now trail the series 2-1.
Brayden Point provided the game-winner for Tampa during the final seconds of the second period just as a power play expired — which was a questionable interference call on defenseman Adam Pelech, who bumped Nikita Kucherov — opening the door for the Islanders to get burned by special teams play that they were so desperate to avoid.
“When I look at it, yeah, I didn’t think there was much there at all,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “At the end of the day, it’s a pretty even game. They capitalized on a chance on a scramble at the end of a power play. It’s a fine line between winning and losing… it’s a game of inches right now.”
With that emphasis on composure, Game 3 didn’t feature the same sort of extracurricular scuffles that had become commonplace over the first two games of the series, as Trotz stressed the need for his side to stay out of the penalty box against the high-powered Lightning.
Kyle Palmieri had one of the best chances of the opening, getting a chance off a scramble in front of Vasilevskiy that the Lightning goaltender saved with his head.
But it was Tampa who would break the ice 10:05 into the first when Yanni Gourde was the beneficiary of supreme coordination from Blake Coleman, who while listing behind the net was able to bat the puck out of the air, settle it and jab it to the opposite post where Gourde was waiting to finish from a tough angle.
With their goal in hand, the Lightning slowed things down to stifle the Islanders’ already-sputtering offense — allowing just three shots in the final 13:20 of the frame. The hosts could hang their hat on generating a bit more in the first’s final minutes, generating some time in Tampa Bay’s zone.
That momentum wouldn’t translate to the start of the second, but Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line did claw it midway through the frame, leading to the Islanders’ most dangerous spell of the night.
While they began throwing everything at Vasilevskiy’s net, Mathew Barzal had a big chance to cash in on a rebound, but a bouncing puck wouldn’t settle in time as he missed an open net from a tough angle.
With 2:59 remaining in the frame, the fourth line blew the roof off the Coliseum as a mad scramble in front was stuffed home by Cal Clutterbuck after Vasilevskiy couldn’t wrangle in a rebound.
“Casey [Cizikas] made a great play on the forecheck, picked up a puck and found [Matt Martin],” Clutterbuck said. “I just tried to shovel at it until it went in.”
Just 37 seconds later, the Lightning received a gift of a power play when Pelech was called for interference, and their lethal man-advantage cashed in. With 19.2 seconds left in the period, Point picked up his third goal in as many games this series, sliding home a loose puck under Varlamov while falling to the ice.
The Islanders came out with a push searching for the equalizer and sustained decent enough pressure on Vasilevskiy’s goal, but they could only muster eight shots in the final 20 minutes — none that were much of a threat to Tampa’s lead as the hosts couldn’t find a way to get enough pucks on net.
“They defend well. So do we,” Clutterbuck said. “If they block 21 [shots] and we had 30, that’s 50 chances to the net. Keep adding to that number, I think we’ll be fine.”