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TAMPA — Coach Barry Trotz said his Islanders’ series-opening blowout loss to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals last season wasn’t a fair fight, after his team was thrown onto the ice the day after traveling between the NHL’s bubbles.
A rested Islanders squad had no such troubles Sunday in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup semifinals, as they took a convincing 2-1 win over the Lightning in front of a disheartened home crowd at Amalie Arena.
If there were any doubts the Islanders could keep up with the Lightning, they should be expunged after Game 1. The Islanders relied on their lockdown structure, had a stick in every play and were responsible with the puck, which left the Tampa Bay crowd barely anything to root for.
Mathew Barzal opened the scoring at 12:32 of the second. Josh Bailey sprung the Islanders’ star center loose with a spot-on pass and Barzal was able to take it and beat Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole.
The Islanders limited the Lightning’s chances through the entire 60 minutes, but were particularly successful while protecting the 1-0 lead, which hasn’t been their strong suit this postseason. Ryan Pulock then sent a blast from the top of the zone to make it 2-0 at 5:36 of the third.
The Lightning had 10 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes, which included a six-on-four power play in the final two minutes, which Brayden Point capitalized on to make it a one-goal game with their net empty.
After facing a less-than-mediocre Tristan Jarry of the Penguins and an injured Tuukka Rask of the Bruins in goal in the first two rounds, the Islanders quickly realized that Vasilevskiy is going to be a problem.
The Islanders were able to get to the crease more often than expected throughout the game, but Vasilevskiy was quick and always in the right position. In the first period, the Vezina Trophy finalist made saves on Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the left post before denying Kyle Palmieri’s rebound attempt at the right post.
Vasilevskiy stymied Anthony Beauvillier twice early in the second. When Barzal turned Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman inside out to get a shot off, Vasilevskiy didn’t give an opening.
While Vasilevskiy finished with 29 saves on 31 shots, Semyon Varlamov was just as impressive. The Islanders goalie made 30 saves on 31 shots on the way to his sixth win of the playoffs.
The tone of the series was set just eight seconds following puck drop, when Matt Martin and Barclay Goodrow received matching unsportsmanlike penalties for a tussle after the whistle. It was evident the Lightning wanted to establish their physicality right off the bat, but they took three total penalties in the opening 20 minutes. Two of those gave the Islanders power plays.
The Islanders’ first man-advantage opportunity was a mess, generating zero shots, while the Lightning finessed three shorthanded shots that Varlamov had to save. The Islanders’ power-play finished 0-for-3.
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