The Tampa Bay Lightning were ready. The New York Islanders were not.
Following Tampa’s 8-2 beatdown of the Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Barry Trotz and his club are left to sift through the rubble of what was their first night back to the conference finals in 27 years and try to regroup for a fairly quick turnaround in Game 2 on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports).
“Whatever it is, you have to be able to move on right away,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said after the loss. “It’s a long series. It’s Game 1. We dropped the ball tonight but we have an opportunity to come right back at it. We’re already looking forward to Game 2.”
The Islanders were certainly up against it heading into this series with the favored Lightning.
After pulling out a tense seven-game series win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, the Islanders had just one day to travel 2,050 miles from the Toronto bubble to the Edmonton bubble and prepare for their opening match.
Meanwhile, a well-rested Lightning team that disposed of the Boston Bruins in five games had a week off and an extra day to acclimate, prepare, and practice in the Edmonton bubble.
“This is playoff hockey. We had our opportunities to end our series sooner. We didn’t,” forward Matt Martin said. “We were able to persevere in the end… we knew that we were going to have to play this.”
But they weren’t using it as an excuse for their poor performance.
“I think how you felt to start the game. We’ve been through travel and transitions like this… it just takes a few minutes to get your legs going,” Lee said. “I don’t think that was indicative of the whole game.”
The whole game was a clinic by the Lightning, who flexed its offensive muscles in an overwhelming display that made the Islanders’ normally tight and resolute defense look like that of a minor-league club.
“We gave them too much space, plain and simple,” Trotz said. “Watching rather than participating. You can’t do that against Tampa.”
Now it’s up to the Islanders to make the necessary adjustments to their game to get back into this series, which is something they’ve been able to do all postseason.
“There are areas we can clean up and limit some of their chances,” defenseman Nick Leddy said. “They’re going to get chances, they’re a high-end skill team, we just have to try and limit those as much as possible.”
The first order of business will be eliminating some of Tampa Bay’s high-danger chances that allowed them to be so efficient. Out of 35 shot attempts that were not blocked by Islanders, 34 went on net.
That derived from uncharacteristic turnovers under high Tampa pressure while being outworked in their defensive zone.
“We clean up a lot of that, the score’s a lot closer and I think the game will be a lot closer,” Trotz said.
So far this postseason, the Islanders have been able to turn things around in the face of adversity — even if it hasn’t happened often. Now, it’s time to dig deep.
“They really care about each other and I’ve seen the commitment level that comes from the group. To me, [Game 1], we’ll wash it away,” Trotz said. “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.”
“They know what’s at stake, we’ll get there.”