That was intense. The Tampa Bay Lightning took everything the Islanders had to dish out – and they did so with only nine forwards. Alex Killorn was ejected in the first period for boarding Brock Nelson then the Lightning lost Brayden Point to an injury just five minutes into the second period.
None of that seemed to matter in the end, though. The Lightning shut things down defensively, Andrei Vasilevskiy was a wall in net, and Nikita Kucherov – or Clutcherov if you please – scored the game winning goal with 7.8 seconds remaining in the game as Tampa Bay won 2-1 and take a 2-0 series lead.
It was Victor Hedman that got things started for the Lightning, scoring a goal in his fourth straight game. After that tying goal, it was a battle of wills between the two as things continued to get more and more physical.
After the game, Hedman said “A lot of the credit goes to the forwards, especially the guy sitting next to me (Kucherov).”
Kucherov has been the target of many fans’ ire for his often times lackadaisical approach to the game, appearing to have disinterest at times when frustrated or turning the puck over with unnecessary passes. In this one, he took his game to a whole new level.
Once Point left the game, Kucherov was all over the ice both offensively and defensively. His forechecking was impressive, his puck protection was fantastic, and it was his hustle – combined with the aggressive play of Yanni Gourde and Ryan McDonagh – that led to that game winning goal.
For the Islanders, this may be the backbreaker. A Lightning team that lost Killorn early then losing a Conn Smythe favorite later yet still got the win may officially be in the heads of those players in New York. You’d have to believe that the Islanders are sitting in that locker room after the game thinking “how are we supposed to beat these guys?”
I said in my preview that the Lightning had to withstand the early onslaught that I expected from the Isles. Both teams did exactly that. The Islanders did everything they could the best they could. The dominated puck possession, they dominated the shots on goal, and Varlamov made some incredible saves. Yet, none of it was enough.
The focus now will shift to the health and availability of Brayden Point and the potential – albeit, unlikely – suspension of Alex Killorn. Heading into a game three with the potential of losing both of those guys could give New York the lifeline they desperately need. Even still, this series looks to be well in hand by the Bolts.