Having survived “The Dreaded Three-Goal Lead” and an injured coach, the Islanders look ahead to Saturday’s Game 2 in Tampa Bay and the possibility of coming home with a 2-0 series lead.
To do so, they must retain the aggressive mentality that galvanized a four-goal onslaught that knocked Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop out of the crease in Game 1.
The ultimate 5-3 victory, after a breathtaking finish and open-netter by Cal Clutterbuck, added another chapter to this astonishing Islanders saga.
“The Game 1 win sets the table for Saturday,” says MSG Networks analyst Butch Goring. “It gives them a ton of confidence.”
With a pair of first-period goals, Shane (Kid Lightning) Prince once again proved that he was more than a throwaway Trade Deadline pick. He became a MAJOR contributor at the time when the Isles were on the heels early in the game.
Let’s not forget that this was another comeback win since the Lightning struck first with an early opening-period score.
But the game’s see-saw quickly moved to the visitors’ side when Travis Hamonic beat Bishop from the right side to tie the count at 1-1.
“We did a good job of putting pucks on the net,” recalls Hamonic. “Looking ahead, we’ll have some tape and study for Game 2.”
Rest assured that the Lightning’s general staff will be examining the 33 saves out of 36 shots Thomas Greiss faced.
The statistics may lie, in a sense, since they fail to depict the many extraordinary saves — one with the knob of his stick — delivered by Greiss.
“He’s my MVP,” says MSG Networks analyst Rick DiPietro. “Thomas makes tough saves look easy.”
Clearly, Game 1 was a perfect encore for the erstwhile backup whose stature rises with every win.
“Confidence?” Greiss muses. “I just go forward, looking ahead to Game 2.”
Looking backward, it was scary for Islanders fans to view the manner in which the Lightning peeled away what was a third period three-goal Isles lead, down to two goals and … finally, one.
“The big thing is that when they made that push,” remembers Hamonic, “we held on.”
Clutterbuck’s open-netter hermetically sealed the victory and allowed the Isles to seize home-ice advantage from the Bolts.
It might not have been possible had Jack Capuano not shuffled his lines. Minus injured Josh Bailey, the coach re-inserted Ryan Strome into the lineup alongside Prince and Brock Nelson. They instantly clicked like watch-works.
“It was nice to get back on the ice again,” enthuses Strome, who finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating. “What [the line] did in the first period was be opportunistic. For Game 2, we’ll have to tighten up a bit.”
Those last words suggested that Cappy will be working on a better defensive effort from the back liners to forwards.
“We have to check on their play away from the puck,” adds the mentor. “What I like is their quickness and speed. Hey, that line played hard and it was nice to see them rewarded.”
John Tavares was not surprisingly integral to the victory effort. His second period power-play goal sent Bishop to the bench and turned out to be the eventual game-winner.
The Captain likes his team’s jump and the ease with which Capuano was able to roll lines. JT also is aware of the challenge ahead on Saturday.
“We know they’re going to respond and we have to be ready for them,” Tavares said.
Cappy was not quite ready for the errant puck that flew over the boards. It bounced off Kyle Okposo and struck the coach on the left side of his nose. His face covered with a towel, Jack was hustled to the infirmary for repairs.
Assistant GM-coach Doug Weight took over and, coincidentally, the home club began its intense comeback to a point where it appeared that the bromide about “The Dreaded Three-Goal Lead” would deflate the Isles.
“I got a little bit of a headache,” says Cappy. “But I wanted to get back, especially when I heard their arena horn go off and they were only a goal behind.”
Once again, the Isles turned the defensive screws and tightened up enough to eventually clear the zone after which Clutterback found the open net.
“Cal,” says DPietro, “is one of the most important players in that lineup and proved it again. So did his linemates.”
The so-called “Fourth Line” with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas pounded the Bolts players relentlessly and it took a toll on the home club.
Whether they continue that bombardment in Game 2 could be decisive and Cappy knows that.
“Our team has been through a lot,” Capuano notes. “On Saturday, we want to back up this effort with a strong one. My team has a strong mind set.
“Let’s face it, this will be a long series and we just won one game. Some of our goals had eyes and we also had puck luck.”
They also retained the sharpness developed in the opening series win over Florida. A quick turnover in series did them a lot of good.
“It helped us to play this series right away,” Okposo said. “We played smart hockey.”
Survival hockey as well. They managed to get through the three-goal lead hex, a wounded coach and an avalanche of late third-period shots that fell around Greiss.
So, it’s on to Saturday and a seven-point key to victory:
1. Keep firing shots at Bishop, whose confidence may be shaky.
2. Suffocate the Lightning’s offense in the neutral zone, as was done in Game 1.
3. Keep pounding the home club with body checks.
4. Score more on the power play which could have been more effective.
5. Be the more desperate team.
6. Continue to be opportunistic.
7. THOMAS GREISS must stay big.