Islanders Weekly: Heading Home Even With Lightning

Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.

RelatedLast Week’s Islanders Weekly

The Islanders advanced to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season, and once again lined up opposite the Tampa Bay Lightning. The firepower present with the defending Stanley Cup champions poses yet another threat to New York, who has had to shut down prolific offenses in every round of the playoffs thus far. The Isles showed up strong in Game 1 and took a 1-0 series lead, something they were unable to do in the first two rounds.

Semyon Varlamov continued his strong play, shutting the Lightning down for most of the game before a late 6-on-4 goal was scored by Brayden Point to put Tampa Bay on the board. Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock each continued their strong playoffs, as each added a goal in the series opener. After a structured and suffocating play style in Game 1, the game opened up much more in Tuesday’s rematch and allowed the offense of the Lightning to find success early and often.

After keeping the Lightning off the board for the first 59 minutes of game action on Sunday, the Islanders allowed the home team to capitalize early as Brayden Point scored his second goal of the series in the first 10 minutes of Game 2. Brock Nelson added a power-play goal to tie the game before the end of the period, but after an Ondrej Palat goal in the second, the Islanders entered the third period trailing 2-1.

After not receiving a goal from a defenseman throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs, Tampa Bay saw two defensemen light the lamp in the third period to solidify a win for the Bolts. Jan Rutta gave the Lightning a two-goal lead before Victor Hedman was able to convert on the power-play to put the game out of reach. A late goal from Mathew Barzal kept the Isles within striking distance, but a disastrous last few minutes with an empty net secured the outcome for New York, which returns to Long Island even in a third consecutive series in these playoffs.

Discipline Concerns

New York did little to help the “New York Saints” narrative in Game 2, giving the league’s best power play five chances to operate on home ice. Despite a generally strong penalty-killing performance, Tampa was still able to convert once at a crucial time to put the game away. Point’s late goal in Game 1 was technically a power-play goal as well, giving the Bolts two power-play goals on seven opportunities through the first two games.

Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning Mathew Barzal New York Islanders
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

While a power-play operating at over 25 percent is exceptional, this is actually uncharacteristic of the Lightning these playoffs, as they converted at over 40 percent through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Islanders can’t afford to keep giving Tampa opportunities with the extra man since at times it provides their only source of offense. Even as the officiating has been questionable on both sides of things, any opportunity to avoid going shorthanded should be a priority for the Isles as they look to take a commanding lead in the series.

Pulock’s Playoff Emergence

One of the major bright spots for the Islanders through the first two rounds of the playoffs has been the play of Ryan Pulock on both ends of the rink, and this has continued through the first two games of this series. After scoring two goals in the 56-game regular season, the big-shot defenseman already has four goals these playoffs, with his three game-winning goals tied for the league lead.

Ryan Pulock New York Islanders
Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Pulock is leading the Islanders in ice time during the playoffs and is relied on by head coach Barry Trotz in all situations. His defense was stellar throughout the regular season, but his lack of goal-scoring left more to be desired. His offensive production throughout the playoffs, especially the timely nature of his goals, has provided a much-needed boost to an Islanders team that is known to struggle to find offense at times. New York’s shutdown pair with Pulock and Adam Pelech has a new dimension now that Pulock has been able to find the back of the net consistently.

Top Performers and the Week Ahead

Top Performers

  • Mathew Barzal: 2 goals
  • Jordan Eberle: 2 assists
  • Ryan Pulock: 1 goal

The Week Ahead

  • 6/17: Game 3 vs Tampa Bay
  • 6/19: Game 4 vs Tampa Bay
  • 6/21: Game 5 at Tampa Bay
  • 6/23: Game 6 vs Tampa Bay (if necessary)

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