The New York Islanders need to play a near-perfect game to come out on the right side against a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After falling behind 1-0 halfway through the first period of Game 3, the Islanders pushed back with a strong second period to even the score. But one penalty call and an ensuing goal changed the entire complexion of a 2-1 loss for the Islanders.
A Tampa Bay mistake in the form of a unforced error in front of the net helped the Islanders tie the score with under three minutes left in the middle period. It looked like the pendulum was swinging solely toward New York.
But then then a referee’s whistle tuned the tide in Tampa Bay’s favor.
With 2:22 left in the second, Adam Pelech was called for interference. On what was essentially a pick play as Ryan Pulock dug the puck out of the corner, Pelech was called for the infraction.
— 𝙼𝚊𝚛𝚒 𝙵𝚊𝚒𝚎𝚕𝚕𝚘 (@faiello_mari) June 18, 2021
At best, it was a ticky-tacky call. In reality, it’s something that happens all game and has not been enforced all postseason.
There’s been a lack of consistency in the playoffs from the officials, including a weird call in Game 2 on Brayden Point after Pelech pushed him and he went flying into Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I didn’t think there was much there,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game of the interference.
But with Tampa Bay on the power play in the waning seconds, it controlled the puck in the offensive zone. As the penalty was coming to a close and Pelech coming out of the box, Tampa Bay cycled the puck and it found Point’s stick in the slot. As he was shoved to the ice, he scored what was the game-deciding goal. His 11th goals of the postseason couldn’t have been more timely.
“At the end of the day, it’s a pretty even game,” Trotz added. “They capitalized on a chance on a scramble at the end of a power play. It’s a fine line between winning and losing. It’s a game of inches right now.”
So even if the goal was technically at even strength, it came as Tampa Bay had control from the power play as the Islanders were just getting five guys back onto the ice. Tampa Bay’s power play is potent enough, and when you’re able to get a kill against it, that’s huge. This time it didn’t directly lead to any success for the Islanders.
Brayden Point is a sicko pic.twitter.com/IVijCc5dhc
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) June 18, 2021
Of course, there were plenty of missed chances in the game.
Mathew Barzal hit the post near the net. Jean-Gabriel Pageau didn’t shoot quick enough with Vasilevskiy unsure of where the puck was. The Islanders generated 12 high danger chances at 5-on-5 over the last two periods while Tampa Bay only had three.
And while the Islanders had a lot of success getting to the net, there weren’t always a ton of rebounds to get and Tampa did a strong job of forcing the Islanders to retreat 200 feet after any burst of chances.
“I think there’s a lot of good defensive teams. Pittsburgh is good, Boston is known for being defensive, but Tampa is good all around,” Matt Martin said. “They’re the defending Stanley Cup champions.”
Playing with a lead, Tampa is as good as any. It was a chore for the Islanders to come back in the final 20 minutes.
And that all circles back to the Pelech penalty. One call turned the game on its head.