The New York Islanders certainly looked like the team coming off the high of a Game 7 win that traveled across the country in two days to face a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had a week of rest and preparation.
Barry Trotz’s men were thrashed by the Lightning 8-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night in Edmonton — an unceremonious return to that round of the postseason for the first time in 27 years.
The eight goals allowed were tied for the most ever given up by the Islanders during a single postseason game.
“To me, this game, we’ll wash it away,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ve lost some heartbreakers in overtime, some real hard matches, sometimes you get it handed to you like today… This group has been really resilient over the last two years… I know we’re going to be better next game. We’ll raise our level.”
Both Brayden Point (2 goals, 3 assists) and Nikita Kucherov (1 goal, 4 assists) recorded career highs with five points in the win while becoming the first players ever to post that many points in a playoff game against the Islanders.
Not only was Tampa’s attack overwhelming, but it was also efficient. They scored those eight goals on 34 shots while missing the net just once on attempts that were not blocked by the Islanders’ defense.
“That’s kind of on everyone. We need to be better in that area,” Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy said. “We’ve always talked about team defense. That’s what the Islanders are about. As far as getting to their shots, I think we can get on them quicker.”
New York’s rude welcome was immediate, with Point scoring 1:14 into the game after he blew by Ryan Pulock down the left-wing to get alone on Thomas Greiss — who got the start after his Game 7 shutout — and finished his chance with ease around the Islanders’ netminder.
The Islanders found an equalizer quickly, however, just 3:19 later on the power play after Blake Coleman’s interference on Cal Clutterbuck — who left the game in the second period after taking a shot off the leg.
Jordan Eberle, who missed a bevy of chances in their previous series against the Flyers, got the Islanders on the board when he slotted a scramble in front through the legs of Vasilevskiy.
Andy Greene’s holding penalty gave the Lightning a chance for an immediate rebuttal, and they did, as Victor Hedman bombed a slapshot past Greiss, whose line of sight was blocked by an undisturbed Tampa forward in Alex Killorn.
“Their power play was good, their top guys were sharp,” Trotz said. “They made us pay tonight.”
A little over two minutes later, Ryan McDonagh made it 3-1 on Tampa’s ninth shot of the game when he sent a slapper past Greiss, who was subsequently pulled by Barry Trotz for Semyon Varlamov.
“Great move by Point to start it off and a couple snipes to follow it up,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “That’s not Thomas’ fault by any means.”
After coming up empty on two power-play chances, the Islanders’ deficit grew to three just four minutes in the second period when Yanni Gourde followed up Pat Maroon’s stuff attempt to guide the puck over the line of an empty net with Varlamov out of position.
Point got his second of the night with 6:42 left in the second when he deflected a Hedman pass out of midair as he stood uncontested by the left post of Varlamov.
“There’s not a whole lot our goalies could do tonight on a lot of their chances,” Trotz said. “They need more help from the five guys in front of them.”
Kucherov’s goal in the third was met with a Leddy tally to pull one back for the Islanders, but the Lightning put the pedal to the medal, scoring another two in the final 11 minutes to cap off New York’s embarrassing evening.
“It’s never good to get blown out. It’s embarrassing,” forward Matt Martin said. “We didn’t envision that. But at the end of the day, Game 2 is now the most important game.”
“It was a lot of things we need to correct, but we’re a good hockey team,” Eberle said. “There’s a reason why we’re here… We’re going to regroup.”