At long last, the New York Islanders played their first Eastern Conference Final game in 27 years. But it didn’t come with the result they wanted.
Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde each scored twice as the Tampa Bay Lightning took command of the series with a dominating 8-2 victory over New York in the first game.
Thomas Greiss, whose heroics got the Islanders to the NHL’s final four, was pulled halfway through the first period after allowing three goals on nine shots.
In relief of Greiss, Semyon Varlamov didn’t fare any better and yielded five goals on 25 chances.
Barry Trotz told reporters after the game he expects the team to bounce back quickly.
“I’ve seen the commitment level that comes from the group,” Trotz said. “To me, we’ll wash it away. We’ve lost some heartbreakers in overtime, some real hard matches. Sometimes you get it handed to you like we did today — it’s still a loss. We’ve just got to regroup.
“I know we’re going to be better next game. We’ll raise our level.”
And now for the first time in these playoffs, the Islanders face a series deficit. Game 1 also marked the first time this postseason the team lost a game by more than one goal.
They’ll get a chance to even things up in Game 2, which is scheduled for Wednesday at 8 p.m.
“We’ve played them before, we know how they play,” Jordan Eberle said. “It’s one of those games they get a chance, we made a mistake, they get a chance, they hit the back of our net. … This is a best of seven, this isn’t over.”
After Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, that gave the Islanders just Sunday and part of Monday to travel to the Edmonton and prepare for this series.
Tampa, which had a week off, had a league-leading 3.47 goals per game during the regular season and had averaged 3.00 goals a contest their first rounds of these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Even with Steven Stamkos out for the series, Tampa generated plenty of offense Monday and went 3-for-6 on the power play.
Using that high octane offense from the outset, Point got on the board quickly in the first period. He skated around Ryan Pulock and made a power move in front of the net to beat Greiss at 1:14.
But the Islanders tallied one on the power play to answer back. With the puck loose in front of the net, Jordan Eberle beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to snap an 11-game goal-less drought.
— Andrew Battifarano (@AndrewAtBatt) September 8, 2020
From there, however, Tampa Bay never looked back and potted two goals from defensemen, one on the man advantage from Victor Hedman and then at 5-on-5 from Ryan McDonagh.
The latter score chased Greiss, who had allowed just three goals on 75 shots against in the postseason.
“Great move by Point to start it off and a couple of snipes to follow it up pretty quickly after,” Anders Lee said. “It’s not Thomas’s fault by any means.”
Four minutes into the second, Tampa Bay padded its lead with a third unanswered goal when Gourde chipped one into a near empty net past Varlamov. Back on the power play later in the period, Point scored his second goal of the night on a redirection in front of the net on a point shot from Hedman.
Already down handedly on the scoreboard with 8:25 left in the second period, the New York Islanders lost a key piece of their fourth line. Cal Clutterbuck blocked a shot from Mikhail Sergachev and left for the dressing room. He returned to the bench early in the third but walked back to the dressing room again before taking a shift.
Trotz did not have an update on Clutterbuck’s status after the game.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 8, 2020
Tampa asserted more control in the third and got goals from Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Gourde.
For the Islanders, Nick Leddy recorded his third goal of the playoffs.
Vasilevskiy earned the win with 22 saves on 24 shots.
“There’s a lot of things we have to correct, but we’re a good hockey team,” Eberle said. “There’s a reason why we’re here. We’ve just gotta regroup, we’ve got a veteran group and we will (regroup).”
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