The New York Islanders survived an early goal and a furious third-period rally to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5–3, in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
The Isles rode a 33-save performance from Thomas Greiss and a pair of first-period goals by Shane Prince to take a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 is Saturday afternoon in Tampa.
Here are three thoughts on the series opener:
Pattern continues for Islanders
If the Islanders had a defining trait in their first-round win over the Panthers it was resilience. They were outshot by a wide margin but stayed within their system, countered when an opportunity presented itself and rallied around some terrific goaltending by Greiss.
It happened that way again in Game 1. The Isles got off to a tentative start on the road, allowing the Lightning to generate speed in the neutral zone as they hung back deep in their own end. It ended up costing them as Ondrej Palat entered the zone as the fourth man on a rush and beat Greiss with a 45-foot slapper just 3:05 into the first.
Less than two minutes later, the tide turned when Casey Cizikas blasted Tampa Bay's Erik Condra into the end boards. The hit forced the Lightning forward from the game and energized the Isles. It wasn't long before a muffin from Travis Hamonic beat Ben Bishop five-hole to tie it up, followed by back-to-back goals from Prince. Both were created when Brock Nelson won board battles, then fed the puck to Ryan Strome, who found Prince undefended in the low slot for easy one-timers. The makeshift line was New York's best of the night.
The Isles sagged after extending the lead to 4-1 on a John Tavares goal power play goal in the second period, and spent most of the third chasing the puck in their own end. But they survived Tampa Bay's third-period assault and assured themselves of at least a split on the road. It was far from a perfect game, but they found a way.
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Turns out Tampa coach Jon Cooper was right to worry about the effects of going five days between games. His team, which didn't allow a single first-period goal to the Red Wings, gave up three to the Isles. It was a hole too deep for them to crawl out of.
The defense was soft early, losing battles and blowing coverages. But it was an especially tough night for Ben Bishop, who allowed four goals on 13 shots before being pulled for just the third time this season. The first goal by Hamonic, and the fourth by Tavares, were pucks he had to have.
“Just one of those things you’ve got to move on from,” Bishop said. “Just kind of forget about it and move forward.”
Although Andrei Vasilevskiy was perfect in relief, there's no doubt who'll get the start in Game 2. Bishop has been Tampa Bay’s unquestioned MVP this season. This team will only go as far as he carries it.
The switch to Vasilevskiy did seem to provide the spark the Bolts were missing early on. They started winning more of the puck battles and asserted their speed, putting the Islanders on their heels. While the two late goals by Nikita Kucherov and Valtteri Filppula weren’t enough to change the result, they did give the Lightning something to build on for Saturday. That little burst of momentum might go a long way in defining how this series plays out.
Has any player done more to increase his value to this point of the playoffs than Greiss? The 30-year-old German has earned five wins in seven starts and has been as big a part of his team’s success as anyone.
Greiss allowed three goals on Wednesday, but this might have been his best game yet. After allowing the opening tally to Palat, he shut the door for the next 45 minutes, allowing the Isles to take control of the contest. He robbed Palat twice, once in the first period and again as time expired in the second to help sustain the lead. However, he saved his best work for the third as the Lightning outshot the Isles 17–5. With his defense off somewhere chasing butterflies, Greiss made highlight reel saves on Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin on successive shifts, then a pair on Nikita Nesterov that saved the game.
Greiss doesn’t have the credentials of Bishop, who earlier in the evening was honored as a Vezina Trophy finalist, but he looks up to the challenge of benching him for the summer.