By Lenn Robbins
Really now, the odds were so stacked against the Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals that a win would have been nothing short of amazing.
While the Islanders were finishing off the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-0, Saturday night in Toronto, the Tampa Bay Lightning were enjoying a charter flight to Edmonton. The Lightning had closed out their series against the Boston Bruins on August 31st, affording them plenty of time to rest their bodies and scout their opponent.
The Islanders arrived in their new playoff home around 7:20 p.m. Sunday night, less than 24 hours before Monday night’s puck drop. Heck, the NHL has been sticking it to the Islanders for years – since approving that ill-fated move to Brooklyn – so why not make the opening game of the series against the No.2 seed as difficult as possible?
“Obviously the travel, this will be a long travel day for us and a quick turnaround playing [Saturday] night and the emotions,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz. “You usually have an emotional crash the next day and then you got to regroup and we’re going to get at it [Monday].”
Translation: Trotz had no idea what his team would have in the tank when they took the ice in Rogers Place.
It didn’t take long to find out in an 8-2 blowout loss to the Lightning. Game 2 is Wednesday night and the 6th-seeded Islanders are going to have to up their game a lot to even the series.
Brayden Point blew down the left side and around Ryan Pulock before cutting in front of Thomas Greiss and scoring just 1:14 into the game. The Islanders tied it on a power play goal when Jordan Eberle stuffed it past Andrei Vasilevskiy at 4:33.
The turning point came midway through the period. The Lightning were on a power play when Brock Nelson got past former Ranger captain Ryan McDonagh and broke in on Vasilevskiy. Nelson couldn’t get the puck to settle down and fired it wide.
About 30 seconds later Victor Hedman blasted a shot from between the top of the circles that beat Greiss at 8:12 for a power play goal. McDonagh added an even strength goal at 10:46 and Greiss’s night was over. Greiss, who was in goal for the series-clinching win over the Flyers, got the start over Semyon Varlamov
After that third goal the Lightning, with their fresh legs, took over. They scored twice on Varlamov in the second period, giving Tampa Bay a 5-1 lead heading into the third.
“Look, you can’t control the schedule, you can’t control how that all works and what gets laid out. You roll with it,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “We’re going to get to Edmonton and rest up and be ready to go for [Monday].”
There simply wasn’t enough time to rest and be ready for an offensive force like the Lightning. It didn’t help the Islanders that after that first power play goal they went scoreless in the next four. The Lightning were 3-for-6 on the power play.
“We’ll have to dig in,” Trotz said. “This team has accepted everything that’s been thrown at us, from scheduling to when we play to all that stuff. This is the new normal and we’ll deal with it and hopefully we’ll have a good game [Monday]. That’s all we can ask. I know our guys give you everything every night, night in and night out.”