The New York Islanders dropped Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Semifinals rematch against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, 2-1.
Prior to Game 3, the Islanders averaged 3.2 goals per game in the playoffs. However, that average did not present itself at Nassau Coliseum, as the Lightning stifled the Islanders’ offense and limited their chances.
Cal Clutterbuck scored the Islanders’ lone goal, and despite New York outshooting the Lightning 28-25, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Andrei Vasilevskiy were the difference in securing the Lightning a victory, despite another controversial call by the officials resulting in the game-winning goal.
Now down 2-1 in the series, let’s take a look at what went wrong in Game 3 for the Islanders.
Neutral Zone Play
It was a much different story back in Game 1. The Islanders were having their way with the Lightning in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers and creating offense out of it, true to the Barry Trotz structure. If you recall, the Islanders out-rushed the Lightning 9-0 in that game.
Fast-forward to Thursday night, and the roles were reversed. The Lightning did an excellent job defending their blue line and forcing turnovers before the Islanders could gain zone entry. With the exception of a few shifts, the Islanders didn’t adjust much, when they probably should have tried to dump the puck in the Lightning’s zone, chase it, and win a puck battle, which is usually in their game plan. That didn’t happen much in Game 3.
Instead, the Lightning turned their defense into offense, and cashed in on chances of their own.
Give credit where it’s due. The Lightning did well clogging lanes and totaled 21 blocked shots.
“They defend well. So do we,” Clutterbuck said. “If they block 21 [shots] and we had 30, that’s 50 chances to the net. Keep adding to that number, I think we’ll be fine.”
It’s another adjustment the Islanders will look to make heading into Game 4. For the Isles, much of the offense is generated off the rush, but in Game 3, those chances were limited. The Islanders needed to get pucks deep in the Lightning zone and cycle the puck. Their lone goal came from an opportunity where they got the puck deep behind the Lightning net – Casey Cizikas was able to recover the puck, and Clutterbuck eventually was able to push it across the goal line.
“Casey [Cizikas] made a great play on the forecheck, picked up a puck and found [Matt Martin],” Clutterbuck said. “I just tried to shovel at it until it went in.”
Making Vasilevskiy constantly look over his shoulder is probably something the Islanders will want to try and do more of. Take his attention away from what’s going on in front of him, and try and create a play from deep in the offensive zone.
4 Lines Lacking
When there’s a kink in the machine, it’s apparent it’s out of order. The Islanders didn’t have all their lines going last night, most notably their “Killer B’s” line, who help drive the offense on most nights.
“They’re playing our top guys tight, making it difficult,” Trotz said about Anthony Beauvillier in a postgame media conference on MSG Networks. “(Mathew Barzal) struggled early in the playoffs fighting for inches, and Beau just has to fight for those inches.”
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Beauvillier and Josh Bailey were held to a shot each, for a combined two shots for the Isles second line, Brock Nelson included.
“I felt we had four lines for parts of the game but not all of the game,” said Trotz. “We came out okay, had a little bit of a dry spell. Slow start in the second, third period we pressed. At the end of the day, pretty even game. They capitalized on a chance.”
The “Killer B’s” are an important part of the Islanders’ offense, seeing as at one point they made a case to be considered the Isles’ “first line.” It’s been a tough series for Beauvillier thus far, with zero points in three games, and a combined two points between the trio.
Nelson and Kyle Palmieri lead the Islanders in playoff goals with seven apiece. Palmieri has been everything general manager Lou Lamoriello had hoped he would be when he acquired him. And until Palmieri faced Vasilevskiy and the Bolts, he was. Now through three contests in this series, the veteran has yet to find the back of the net.
His best chance to break that dry spell came early in the first period on a great feed from J.G. Pageau.
Vasilevskiy made a good save, but for a goalscorer like Palmieri, he has to bury that puck from that spot on the ice.
A squandered early chance changes the momentum of the game, and the Islanders are counting on Palmieri to bury those kinds of chances to play with a lead, rather than chase one.
It’s a situation the Islanders have been in before in the previous two rounds. Split games on the road, then drop Game 3. It worked out well for them in the first two rounds. With a few adjustments and plenty of hockey left, the Islanders head into Game 4 with the bend, don’t break mentality.
“We’re a veteran team, we brush off anything that goes on late in the game and stick to our game plan,” said Matt Martin. “A big goal to tie the game, Point gets one back, but we’re always going to play with confidence because we believe we’re a good team.”
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.