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On a feisty Friday night filled with scrums, defenseman Jason Garrison scored 1:34 into overtime as the Tampa Bay Lightning dealt the New York Islanders a crushing 2–1 defeat on their home ice in Brooklyn.
Nikita Kucherov, the Game 3 hero, scored 7:49 into the third period to tie the game at 1-1 and Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (27 saves) held steady to give Tampa Bay a commanding 3-1 series lead with Game 5 on Sunday afternoon in Tampa.
Let’s get physical
No surprise that this game was particularly spirited after the controversial hits in Game 3: Brian Boyle on Thomas Hickey before the deciding goal; Hickey laying Jonathan Drouin out flat. Tonight there was blood on Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan’s nose, big hits from the Bolts' Ondrej Palat, battles between Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn and Isles captain John Tavares (who was held pointless for the third straight game), and numerous scrums around the crease. The two teams, which have clearly taken the measure of each other and not liked what they've seen, have settled into a tightly contested style of play that leads to hard-fought, low-scoring games. That Tampa Bay has emerged as the clearly superior squad despite the absence of sniper Steven Stamkos and top defender Anton Stralman bodes well for its chances of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Three months ago, Tampa Bay was preparing for The Exodus: Steven Stamkos Edition. Would he be traded at the deadline? Or leave during the off-season as a free agent? But with their captain sidelined by a blood clot, the Lightning are learning that Life After Stamkos might just work out. Kucherov, who tied Game 3 with 38.4 seconds left and Game 4 midway through the third, potted 30 goals during the regular season. Drouin, who spent most of the season looking for a one-way ticket out, might want to put down some roots. He’s often looked like Tampa Bay's best postseason player, although the Islanders did keep him off the score sheet tonight. But if one thing is clear it's that the Lightning have an exceptional young core and will likely be a force in the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future.
Put me in coach
Goaltending, surprisingly, hasn't been much of an issue for the Islanders during the playoffs. Despite the groin injury suffered by starter Jaroslav Halak, career journeyman backup Thomas Greiss has acquitted himself well. But there was a lump-in-the-throat moment tonight when Jean-Francois Berube, 24, who last tended net for the Islanders on April 2 and let in five goals in a loss to the Penguins, was summoned.
Early in the second period, Greiss and New York's trainers tried to figure out how to replace the blade of the netminder's skate, which had fallen out. When they couldn't get it fixed, Greiss headed for the locker room and coach Jack Capuano called upon the untested Berube. The 24-year-old stepped in at the beginning of an Islanders penalty kill and stayed in net for 4:47, stopping both shots he faced, including a partial breakaway by Palat. It says something that the young Islanders may have some capable reserves, but at this point, with the series heading back to Tampa and the Lightning on the verge of closing out the series, will they be enough to save New York? Right now it looks like this one will be over in five.