The New York Islanders’ hill to the Stanley Cup is now a mountain.
The Tampa Bay Lightning took a 3-1 Eastern Conference Final series lead with a 4-1 victory on Sunday afternoon over a punchless Islanders squad, who followed up five goals in Game 3 with just a single tally Game 4.
Two Lightning goals in just 12 seconds to answer the Islanders’ lone breakthrough — a Brock Nelson wrister — turned the game on its head and forced New York to spend the second half of Sunday playing from behind and doing so ineffectively.
“To me, there’s a couple shifts that you want. The first shift, the last shift of the period, and after a goal so you maintain some momentum in your game,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We didn’t do it twice. That’s on us.”
The Islanders will now have to win three-consecutive games to save their season and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984.
“You can’t give them an inch and we’re giving them too many inches,” Trotz added.
Their quick defensive demise came from out of nowhere, especially because they spent much of the opening period in their patented defensive shell, opting for organization rather than offensive chances. The got just four shots on Andrei Vasilveskiy’s goal.
It took them some time to get those offensive legs moving but in the second half of the second period, but they found a way to strike first.
A strong Anthony Beauvillier forecheck won the puck from Vasilevskiy to retain Islanders possession in Tampa’s zone. The puck worked its way to Nelson, who meandered through the Lightning zone to get free before sniping a wrist shot over the Tampa netminder to give New York an unlikely lead 11:27.
It didn’t last long, and it woke up the mighty Lightning in the process.
Just 15 seconds later, Blake Coleman received a long clear from Yanni Gourde to create a breakaway, that he easily beat Semyon Varlamov with. Twelve seconds after that, Ondrej Palat snuck through a sleeping Islanders defense to put the Lightning in the lead.
“You want to follow up a goal with a good shift and a good response to stay on it,” Nelson said. “They had a better response than we did… If we hang on a bit, it’s a different game.”
Tampa would double its lead 3:33 into the third period when Brayden Point redirected a Palat pass right in the crease off the skate of Varlamov, but followed up the rebound to stuff it home.
“Our response after our goal was not good,” Trotz said. “It put us in a hole and we gave up the third one and that was a big hill to climb.”
While the Islanders never really flirted with a second goal to get back into things, Patrick Maroon added an empty-netter in the final minutes to ice Tampa Bay’s victory.
Amongst the Islanders’ biggest faces of their struggles is their power play, which went 0-for-3, and a first line of Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Anders Lee that were held in check yet again.
“They haven’t found the back of the net enough for us. We’re going to have to get some production there,” Trotz said. “We’re best when we get production from up and down our lineup. We will. We have one life left. This group has invested too much to not give their best effort [for Game 5] on Tuesday.”