Anthony Beauvillier stole the puck in the offensive zone and quickly fired a shot to the top shelf of the net for the game-winning overtime goal, giving the New York Islanders a 3-2 comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning and forcing a Game 7. Game 6 was one to remember, with great plays by both teams, great coaching adjustments, and an overtime finish from a forward in Beauvillier who was struggling the entire series. The game itself allowed the Islanders players and coaching staff to find new ways to beat the Lightning and expose some of their weaknesses, which will be pivotal for the winner-take-all game on Friday.
Continued Excellence From The Defensemen
With under six minutes remaining in the third period, the Lightning were given a power play from a Matt Martin high-stick. For a team that scored 20 goals on the man-advantage over the course of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this was their best chance to seal the victory and generate scoring chances. The Islanders defensemen, most notably Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, halted their opponent’s offense throughout the power play, along with the forwards on the ice, killing the penalty and retaining the momentum for the rest of the game. The penalty kill was a culmination of disciplined defense and the improved ability to not only create turnovers but also effectively move the puck out of the defensive zone, a problem that was exposed by the Lightning throughout the prior games in the Eastern Conference Final (ECF) series.
The Islanders’ success this season can primarily be credited to the defensive pairings, with the recent game being another example of a unit that created turnovers, limited shots on the net, and eliminated scoring chances by cutting off passing lanes. The Islanders allowed two goals in Game 6 that can be the undoing of the defensemen, with Pelech turning over the puck to the Lightning in the offensive zone and Ryan Pulock allowing Anthony Cirelli to skate past him for an odd-man rush goal but otherwise, the defense put together an exceptional game. Moreover, the defensemen impacted the offensive end of the ice, shooting the puck from the point and creating scoring opportunities in the offensive zone, highlighted by Mayfield’s game-tying goal late in the third period. The unit will be relied upon for Game 7, and it’s only fitting that the defense carries this team to the Stanley Cup Final.
A New Way to Beat Vasilevskiy
The ECF has been a showcase for the Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and his ability to shut down opposing offenses. The world-class goaltender has been hard to beat throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he boasts a .936 save percentage, but the Islanders have been able to find the back of the net with a methodical offense. In the previous two victories, the Islanders shot the puck to the lower half of Vasilevskiy, forcing him to make difficult saves and providing the forwards the opportunity to score off a pad save with the star goaltender out of position. Interestingly, two of the three goals that were scored in Game 6, including the game-winner by Beauvillier, were shots to the top half of the net, a target that was avoided considering the 26-year-old goaltender’s strength was in those shots.
The Islanders tested their opponent’s goaltenders in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with glove-side shots off of Tristan Jarry of the Penguins and top-shelf shots off Tuukka Rask of the Bruins. Vasilevskiy has proven to be the greatest challenge as he is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, but the recent victory provided more insight into how he can be exposed. Aside from the second-chance shots that the Islanders have benefitted from throughout the series, the ability to fire quick shots on the net with little reaction time proved to be pivotal in the team’s success. Additionally, the elevated shots will continue to be part of the offense moving forward, with the final game of the ECF series likely requiring a few goals where there otherwise wouldn’t be any.
Barzal Creating in the Offensive Zone
Mathew Barzal’s speed in the offensive zone resulted in both the Islanders’ regulation goals, allowing them to win the game in overtime. The speed skating through the neutral zone on odd-man rushes or in the offensive zone allowed Barzal to find open skaters with open shots on the net, leading to two assists on the night for the 24-year-old scorer and more importantly, created scoring chances for a struggling offense that needed to capitalize on scoring opportunities. The performance was an ideal way to shed the demons of Game 5, where the star scorer struggled for the entire game and was ejected after cross-checking one of the Lightning skaters at the end of the second period.
Barzal has continued to lead the offensive unit alongside Jordan Eberle, whom he found for one of the goals in the 3-2 victory, but the recent game particularly displayed the 24-year-old scorer’s ability to open up the opposing defense. The speed and playmaking ability draw defensemen towards Barzal and allow the rest of the Islanders on the ice to find open ice and scoring opportunities. The Islanders offense has struggled at times in the ECF series, albeit against a Lightning defense that makes it difficult to find scoring opportunities against, but if the top-line scorer can continue to garner the attention of the defensemen, the rest of the shift will thrive in Game 7.
How The Islanders Can Win Game 7
The ECF series has already been a great one, to say the least, and Game 7 should likewise be one to remember between two great teams. A reoccurring issue in the past two games has been the Islanders’ inability to combat the pressure in the defensive zone when trying to clear the puck out of the zone. Oftentimes, including the first goal the Lightning scored in Game 6, the Islanders are pressured in the offensive zone and will turn over the puck to set up a scoring opportunity immediately for their opponent. The Lightning have the experience and Cup pedigree, and they know what it takes to win an ECF Game 7. The upcoming game can see one error cost either team a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, and as a result, the Islanders must play their best game of the series and remain disciplined, especially on the defensive end of the ice.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.