Islanders Edge: Barzal, Isles take tight game one
photo credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
After losing game one of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning 8-2, the New York Islanders finally got a fair fight in which they were not feeling the effects of a game seven or long-distance travel.
In the third round against the same team for the second straight year, a game one victory could ease the pressure of playing in a close to must-win game two.
To win game one and the series, Barry Trotz and the Isles knew that they could not give Tampa any extra inches or turn the puck over. But, even more importantly, the Isles needed to remain disciplined and keep this hockey game five-on-five. Tampa’s lethal power-play operated at over forty percent in the first two rounds of the 2021 playoffs, and New York’s penalty kill struggled at times in the second round against the Boston Bruins’ top power-play unit. Granted, Tampa and Boston are some of the best at moving the puck, and New York has a solid penalty-kill, but obviously - it is best to keep things five-on-five.
The game started chippy. four-on-four hockey ensued just eight seconds into the game after a whistle. After a scrum, there was more open ice for each side to work with. Neither team scored on the four-versus-four or in the first period, but New York looked like the better team - and the shot count backed that up, as New York outshot the Bolts 14-11 in the first frame.
Mathew Barzal broke the tie in the second period, taking a beautiful feed from Josh Bailey, holding off Jan Rutta for a breakaway, and beating Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole. New York continued to stay out of the box, close lanes, and display excellent puck management and protection. Because of this, they possessed a 1-0 lead heading into the third and final regulation frame.
5:36 into the third, Ryan Pulock’s blast from the point leaked through Vasilevskiy, giving New York a 2-0 lead. Jordan Eberle picked up his sixth assist of the playoffs.
Continuing to give Tampa nothing, the Isles kept their stellar play up and got a boost from goaltender Semyon Varlamov when needed.
Tampa went to the power-play late with their net empty. With just under a minute left, Brayden Point put the home team on the board.
New York shut it down from there and took the game 2-1. Despite a late scare, the boys and blue and orange set the tone and got exactly what they needed.
Game two between these teams is set for Tuesday at 8:00 PM Eastern Time.