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Islanders Send Message with Relentless Game 1 Effort vs Defending Champs

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New York Islanders

The New York Islanders talked about unfinished business in the lead-up to Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and while they tried to assert that the comments weren’t aimed at their Stanley Cup Semifinals opponent, they certainly looked like they were playing to prove a point on Sunday.

The Islanders put on a clinical performance against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in their 2-1 series-opening win. New York was the better team on Sunday, to the surprise of just about anyone not located on Long Island.

[Click here for complete Stanley Cup Playoff coverage of the New York Islanders]

And when the final buzzer sounded that point was clear.

Game 1 had been New York’s game right from the opening puck drop and as the afternoon continued they got settled into their style. The Islanders outplayed Tampa Bay five-on-five and in the battle between the pipes, it was Semyon Varlamov that prevailed over Andrei Vasilevskiy.

“It’s growing. If you look at the way the playoffs are going for us, our games continue to get better as they go along,” Jordan Eberle said. “That’s what you want out of our group. There’s still pieces we can continue to build on but you’re in the conference final, you’re in the final four. You should have confidence. This is a good start for us.”

On Sunday the New York played “Islanders hockey” by frustrating their opponent with their physical style and forcing them to make errors. It was a bad turnover by Steven Stamkos in the second period that led to the Islanders’ first goal of the night. At the time that had been just the latest forced turnover that New York created a scoring chance off of.

Anthony Beauvillier had stripped Brayden Point of the puck earlier in the period and forced Vasilevskiy to make a tough save. In the end, Tampa Bay had turned over the puck seven times on Sunday compared to the one lone turnover by the Islanders.

It was an uncharacteristic effort from Tampa Bay, to say the least.

Rapid React: Relentless Islanders Upset Lightning in Game 1

“Our work ethic was there, our compete with there, our minds weren’t there,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Some of our decisions were poor. So that happens when you get this deep into the playoffs and there’s only four teams left. You have to have everything working in unison and we just weren’t quite there.”

A large part of that had to do with the Islanders stifling defensive effort in Game 1. The Islanders held Tampa Bay to 20 shots through the first 40 minutes and the always dangerous trio of Ondrej Palat, Point and Nikita Kucherov were held to a combined three shots on net.

Steven Stamkos’ impact on the game was kept to the bare minimum and he registered just one shot.

While Tampa Bay generated 29 scoring chances to the Islanders 20 five-on-five, New York held the edge in high danger chances 9-8 through the game.

“Today was reminiscent of Games 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 last year,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said harkening back to last year’s series in the bubble. “We’re pretty similar. There hasn’t been any overhaul on both sides. Pretty much what we expected. In some ways, that was good. Being familiar with a team you haven’t played for six months or whatever, it was good. Good start for us.”

The Islanders managed to stick to their formula in Game 1 except for the pair of penalties that they took inopportunely late in the first period and at the end of the game. That was where Tampa Bay was at its most dangerous, which cost Varlamov a shutout with 57 seconds left in the game.

New York did handle Tampa’s lethal power play earlier, closing out the 1:23 that they had to start the second period with relative ease.

“I think we’re comfortable in that spot. Teams make a push there,” Ryan Pulock said. “They get an extra attacker, they had that power play, it’s tough. They got that goal but we stayed composed, we didn’t get too worried.”

The Islanders will need to replicate that effort for the rest of the series and without question, Tampa Bay will make adjustments ahead of Game 2 on Tuesday.

Casey Cizikas told reporters before Game 1 that Tampa Bay was going to have to beat the Islanders and they wouldn’t beat themselves. On Sunday, the Islanders lived up to his words.

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