Mishkin’s Extra Shift: Lightning 2, Islanders 1

This game ended with a bang. During the final 30 seconds of regulation in a 1-1 game, the Lightning brought the puck into the offensive zone. Off the rush, Yanni Gourde attempted a backhand shot from the right circle that Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped. The rebound eventually went to Nikita Kucherov, who centered a pass to an unguarded Ondrej Palat in front of the net. Palat’s shot went wide, however. New York defenseman Andy Greene collected the puck behind his net and attempted to rim it around the boards. Ryan McDonagh had stepped in from the blue line and, as a result, intercepted the puck at the left circle. The Islanders defenders had their eyes on McDonagh … but not on Kucherov, who had moved into an open spot at the bottom of the right circle. Just as importantly, he positioned himself so that a potential cross-ice passing lane was open. McDonagh delivered a perfect feed and Kucherov one-timed the puck into the net. The winning goal came at 19:51 of the third period. It was a beautifully-executed play.

“Beautiful” would not be the adjective used to describe what happened in the first 59 and a half minutes, though. The Lightning had a rough time with their puck play. Many passes weren’t completed cleanly. It was a night in which many of the Lightning players seemed to fight the puck. Consequently, the Lightning didn’t enjoy nearly as much possession time as they had in Game One – or in a lot of their other playoff contests to this point.

They also had to play with a short bench for most of the night – Alex Killorn was given a game misconduct early on following his boarding major and Brayden Point left the game in the second period due to injury. As a result, the Lightning, who again dressed 11 forwards, had only nine forwards available for the majority of the game.

But even with a short bench and a tough night with the puck, the Lightning persevered. And they were able to win it because – along with Kucherov’s late strike and Victor Hedman‘s key goal late in the first – they defended hard and effectively without the puck. This work included two crucial penalty kill segments. The Islanders not only had the five-minute power play in the first period following Killorn’s major, they also received a five-on-three power play in the third. But the Lightning killed off all those penalties.

The Lightning knew that the Islanders would rebound from the lopsided Game One result and come out with determination to start Game Two. The Isles did that. New York executed at a much higher level than the Lightning in the opening frame. The Islanders were quicker to pucks and won the majority of puck battles. And they got rewarded early in the game when Matt Martin got open in the low slot and scored the opening goal at 1:24.

After the Martin goal, the Lightning continued to swim upstream for most of that first period. They spent most of the period without the puck, forced to defend. But they were still able to come out of it tied. There were two big reasons for that. First, they navigated through the major kill, which began at 5:55 of the first. New York recorded five shots on goal during the power play and applied consistent pressure. But Andrei Vasilevskiy was terrific in keeping the Islanders off the board during the major. The other key moment occurred when Devon Toews iced the puck. On the ensuing faceoff, Barclay Goodrow drew it back to Hedman at the left point. Hedman’s shot found its way through traffic and past Varlamov, tying the game with 1:35 remaining in the first.

The Lightning were outshot in the first period, 13-4, and decisively outplayed. Over the final 40 minutes, however, the contest was more evenly-contested. The Lightning had a few strong offensive zone shifts during the second and third, but they never got completely in synch with their puck play. Before the shift that ended with Kucherov’s goal, the Lightning did cobble together a few dangerous looks on Varlamov. But they were isolated. At the same time, though, the Islanders puck play dipped after the first period. As a result, there wasn’t much happening for either team in the offensive zone.

The Isles did have the glorious opportunity to break the tie midway through the third period when they received that five-on-three. But the Lightning didn’t allow a shot during the two-man disadvantage, although the Isles recorded four shots during the five-on-four portions of the overlapping penalties. Vasilevskiy was a big reason why the Lightning went 4-4 on the PK in Game Two. New York recorded 28 shots on goal in the game – 13 came while on the power play. But the Lightning PK unit also deserves credit for gutting out those tough kills. Because the Lightning won only two of 13 faceoffs while shorthanded, the Islanders enjoyed a lot of offensive zone time while on the man advantage. But even with all of New York’s power play possession time, the Lightning managed to limit the number of Grade-A chances against.

And that was true during five-on-five play as well. The Lightning’s commitment to playing strong team defense was a big part of this victory. As was their dynamic shift in the closing seconds of regulation.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

  1. Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 27 saves.
  2. Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. GWG.
  3. Victor Hedman – Lightning. Goal.

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