Missed opportunities only become more magnified the further you get into the playoffs, and the Islanders had a bevy of beckoning chances on Wednesday night.
Nikita Kucherov scored the game-winning goal with 7.8 seconds in regulation to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final.
Such a loss could have been an even tougher pill to swallow for an Islanders team that was blown out 8-2 in Game 1, especially because they 0-for-4 on the power play, including a five-minute major in the first period and a 5-on-3 opportunity in the third.
Needing a dramatic response from their opening blowout loss, the Islanders answered the initial call by storming out to a lead just 1:29 into the game. A strong forecheck from the fourth line saw Nick Leddy win the puck behind the net and shuffle it in front for Matt Martin, whose shot went off defenseman Zack Bogosian and popped over a flailing Vasilevskiy.
It was Martin’s fifth goal of the postseason after scoring just five in 55 regular-season appearances.
As they seized that early momentum, they were given an early chance to create some breathing room after Alex Killorn illegally boarded Brock Nelson along the boards in the Islanders zone. While Nelson was down on the ice momentarily, Killorn was slapped with a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Nelson would not return until the second period, but the Lightning would go down a second forward when Brayden Point — who recorded two goals and three assists in Game 1 — left early with an injury.
As has been the case with the Islanders for most of the season, their power play sputtered on that five-minute opportunity and came up empty, with just five shots in five minutes.
The missed chance came back to bite them, and so did an ill-timed icing from Devon Toews within the final two minutes, even though Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk touched the puck before it wound behind the goal line. With a face-off in the Islanders’ zone, a Tampa Bay face-off win came right to Victor Hedman, who ripped a slapper off the left post and in past Varlamov.
After the Islanders killed a penalty at the start of the second, Josh Bailey had a golden opportunity to put the Islanders in front six minutes into the frame when he was found in front by Casey Cizkas. But the puck never settled, and his wrister toward a wide-open net sailed well over the crossbar.
Vasilevskiy had to be sharp for Ryan Pulock breakaway, however, as the Islanders’ defenseman managed to keep Hedman at bay to try and slide one through the five-hole of the Lightning goalie, to no avail.
The Islanders’ chances kept coming as their defense and Varlamov remained resolute into the third period. They were awarded a 5-on-3 power-play opportunity for 39 seconds before 1:21 of normal power-play time, but a hesitancy to shoot ensured the man advantage would never get off the ground.
They were made to pay in the final seconds when Andy Greene turned the puck over in the Islanders zone, allowing to Ryan McDonagh’s pinpoint pass to Kucherov at the opposite post, who one-timed the game-winner past Semyon Varlamov.