Playoff history repeating itself might just be a good thing for the Islanders as they look ahead to Game 3 against the Lightning Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Jack Capuano‘s skaters split their first two games in Florida against the Panthers in the first round and then went on to capture the series in six games.
Not that John Tavares & Co. had wanted to drop a 4-1 (one open-netter) decision Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena. Their hope was to take two in Tampa Bay before bringing Round 2 up to Barclays Center.
It was a reasonable idea until the first period when the Lightning set up a detour, simply by playing in a great big way.
This time, the home club’s Ben Bishop did a good vacuum cleaner imitation in the Tampa Bay crease while Tyler Johnson (twice) Jonathan Drouin and Vic Hedman were the lamplighters.
Meanwhile, New York goalie Thomas Greiss was reduced from impregnable in Game 1 to pregnable the second time around.
Granted, from the Isles’ side, one out of two potential wins ain’t bad, but coach Capuano went in wanting more and leaves wondering about what might have been.
“The Lightning had more possession in our zone,” says the coach. “A few of our guys struggled and hopefully they’ll bring their A-game at home.”
Cappy predicts line changes and the second game effort virtually demands same. Neither Tavares, Kyle Okposo or, for that matter, any forwards excelled and the coach knows it.
“We have to get more shots,” Cappy reports. “We could have challenged Ben Bishop more.”
The most obvious Isles turnaround lessons to be applied for a Tuesday win, must be gleaned from turning-point errors made in Saturday’s match.
From New York’s early first-period power play to the Lightning’s first goal, Cappy’s crew made a medley of mistakes. Here are future cures for what were decisive blunders:
1. Fix the power play. It starts with winning the opening face-off, which the Isles failed to do on successive first-period man advantages. From those flaws on, the PP was NG, as in no good. Ah, but they did it right the third time around.
Nikolay Kulemin got the lone Islanders’ goal, which inspired a furious attack by Cappy’s crew. It was halted only by a first period buzzer. After that, overall team follow-up was lacking. Man-advantage chances later in the game were squandered in one way or another.
“The game was settled in the first period,” says MSG Networks analyst Butch Goring, “when the Islanders failed to take advantage of their power play. In the next game, they have to shoot the puck more; there was too much passing.”
2. Greiss, who gave up two goals on his first four shots, has to regain first game form. Drouin second’s goal was a backhander through the five hole with Greiss’ stick not in proper position.
“It was a huge goal for Tampa,” explains MSG Networks Rick DiPietro. “That’s one that Thomas would want back.” To his credit, Greiss’ game improved after that, but his shooters were firing cardboard bullets; only 20 shots and one power-play goal.
3. Better Breaks: Cal Clutterbuck‘s inadvertent collision with Nick Leddy led to a first-period goal. Victor Hedman’s second period power-play shot was going wide, but bounced off Cal de Haan‘s skate for a 3-1 Bolts lead.
“That goal was the result of a bad (refereeing) call (on goalie interference) against Clutterbuck,” adds DiPietro. NBC analyst Mike Milbury seconded the motion. Both were right. Significantly, the Islanders never were truly effective after that.
4. Regain the physical advantage. The Isles won Game 1 with ferocious two-period forechecking, keeping the Bolts off their game. They have to do likewise at the Flatbush Avenue rink.
5. Find third-period offense. The Isles third period assaults were few and ineffective. With only 3:48 remaining in the final frame, the Brooklynites had mustered just a handful of drives, none dangerous. At that point Cappy pulled Greiss for an extra skater.
6. More Nick Leddy: He’s the Islanders’ fastest skater and best end-to-end rusher. His club needs more of him on offense to counter-balance the Bolts’ Hedman.
“We’ve got to get more aggressive,” says captain Tavares. “We have to be better slowing them down. We have to be sharper moving the puck and shoot more pucks.”
The game’s chippiness was obvious, especially in the third period. One target was Johnson, the Bolts’ big-little man who had two goals and an assist. Try as they might, the Isles could not contain Johnson nor the revived, exceptionally crafty Drouin.
All things considered, Greiss needed a lot more help — defensively and offensively — than he received. Tampa Bay’s puck control rarely could be blunted after the first period and especially in the third.
Goring and DiPietro agree that the Islanders did not have the intensity that was required in Game 2.
“On Tuesday, the Isles need Thomas not to be good,” concludes DiPietro, “he has to be great.”
True enough, but he also needs goals.
“Going home to our building,” predicts Frans Nielsen, “will be a different story. We have to be tough to play against.”
Or, the simple but accurate Goring conclusion: “It was a lackluster effort; on Tuesday the Islanders simply have to find a way to win.”
Here’s a concise five-point plan to achieve that goal:
1. Have a better start; score first.
2. Play with desperation; the way the Lightning did on Saturday.
3. Stop Drouin and Johnson in particular.
4. Brock Nelson must be re-invigorated; his shot and size can turn the series back in the Isles favor.
5. Control the pace from the opening face-off.