UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders may have sent a message in the opening game of their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the defending Stanley Cup Champions have been reminding them ever since who the throne still belongs to.
Game 3 was another example of the Islanders being reminded why Tampa Bay is the defending champs. Not only have their best players stepped up when they’ve needed them offensively, but Tampa flexed their defensive muscles by frustrating the Islanders by blocking shots and limiting their chances.
Then of course there is Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy and the lights-out way he has played since the opening game.
“Tampa is good all around. They’re the defending Stanley Cup champions,” Matt Martin said after the loss. “They know what it takes to win. They have a couple of top-tier defensemen, four good lines that know what they have to do in their D zone. … There’s a lot of top teams in this league that knows how to take care of their own end, but they’re certainly one of them.”
Tampa Bay is a different storm for the Islanders to weather. They’re a team that has the offense to light teams up, the size to punch teams in the mouth and the defense to stifle even the best offensive teams in the NHL.
Going into the series, the New York Islanders had been averaging 3.6 goals per game through the first two rounds of the postseason and they scored four or more goals in eight of their first 12 playoff games this year. Against Boston, they’ve been averaging just 1.6 goals and they’ve been held to just two or fewer goals in each of the first three games of the series.
“They’ve been in this position a few times. Obviously, they’re Stanley Cup Champions,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said about Tampa’s suffocating defense. “They’ve been in these situations. We tried and we’re just going to have to get more pucks and we’re going to have to get inside. We had some chances and Vasilevskiy had a couple of key saves. They didn’t have a lot tonight.
“I thought we were pretty good defensively as well. A lot of stuff they got I think we gave it to them. It’s funny, as you go along this path, you go deeper and deeper, the teams are better and better, and you’ve got to dig in even harder.”
Trotz wasn’t wrong when he said the Islanders played well defensively on Thursday night and Semyon Varlamov’s effort between the pipes was solid, but in the defensive battle, it was clear who had the edge and it made all the difference.
If you’re looking for some solace, the series with Tampa Bay has taken on a similar story arc as the Islanders’ previous two this year. The Islanders split the games on the road, only to drop the third game at home. They’d go on to win the next three games after that in both of those series.
However, Tampa Bay is not Boston and they are certainly not Pittsburgh. No disrespect to those two teams, but Tampa Bay just operates on a higher level and the Islanders are seeing that first hand.
“I think every game’s been tough,” Casey Cizikas said about the series so far with Tampa Bay. “Each team is battling and they want to take care of their own end and limit chances as much as possible. It’s going to be a dog fight every night and we expected that.”
It’s put up or shut up time for the New York Islanders heading into Game 4 on Saturday now. If they tie things up at 2-2 it’s a whole new ball game and recent history is on their side, but a loss, well that would be a tough hole to climb out of.
Regardless, Tampa Bay has reminded the Islanders why they’re still the reigning champs after the Islanders sent a message of their own in Game 1.