The New York Islanders are facing a familiar scenario, trailing 2-1 in a series after a narrow loss in Game 3 at home.
The first two times in this postseason they bounced back with three straight wins to advance past Pittsburgh and Boston. That gives the Islanders some confidence heading into Game 4 against Tampa Bay at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night.
“We’ve been here before — just take care of business here,” coach Barry Trotz said. “If you haven’t done it, you always have that doubt. We’ve done it twice already, so there should be no doubt in in our guys. We didn’t lose a series. In some ways the series might have just begun.”
In each series, the Islanders played well enough to win Game 3 but fell short and used that as motivation to regroup and turn the tide.
Against Pittsburgh, they scored three times in the third period to tie the score 4-4 before the Penguins’ Brandon Tanev got the winner with 3 1/2 minutes remaining. Against Boston, Mathew Baral tied it at 1 with 5 1/2 minutes left in regulation, and the Islanders lost on Brad Marchand’s fluky, odd-angle shot 1 1/2 minutes into overtime.
This time, Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point got the deciding goal late in the second period on play he called “lucky” as he swiped the puck past goalie Semyon Varlamov while falling to the ice.
Now the Islanders have to find a way to manage another series comeback against the defending champion Lightning, who have been matching New York’s defensive intensity and physical play.
“It’s on us to do it, not hope or anything like that. We put in the work,” Trotz said. “The funny thing is is that the longer you go into playoffs the teams get better and better. That’s where you’ve got to really dial in your game, you’ve got to dial in the effort.”
The Islanders have five goals on 85 shots against Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first three games after averaging 3.6 per game in their first two series.
“Just look at their back end,” Barzal said about the Lightning. “They got long, heavy D that move wall and obviously Vasilevskiy is one of the best in the league. So I think you combine those two things it makes it tough.”
After a 2-1 loss at home in the series opener in a game Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper didn’t think his team played its best, the Lightning have won two straight while outscoring the Islanders 6-3. They’ve picked up their defensive intensity since while getting in passing lanes. Tampa Bay blocked 21 shots in Thursday night’s win after totaling 16 in the first two games.
“We talked about it right after Game 1, when we lost that game and didn’t do enough of the little things there to give ourselves a chance,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Shot blocking is one of them and ever since that game I feel like everyone’s willingness has gone up even more.”
Complementing their tight defense, the Lightning have been getting a lot of scoring from Point, who has goals in six straight games. He leads the league with 11 goals in the postseason and his streak is the longest in the playoffs since Ottawa’s Martin Havlat also scored in six straight in 2006.
“I mean I think anytime you watch Point play you get an appreciation for the things he can do on the ice, his work ethic,” Barzal said. “He is one of the hardest competitors in the league, just competes really hard, in every in every zone.”
The team that scored first has won each of the first three games of this series. The Lightning are 10-1 when scoring first this postseason, and 0-3 when allowing the first goal. The Islanders, 4-1 when getting the first goal, are 5-5 when the opponent scores first.
“It’s always easier when you score first but I think it doesn’t really matter,” the Islanders’ Leo Komarov said. “We just have to play better and keep playing our game and we’ll be all good.”
With their win in Game 3, the Lightning improved to 6-1 on the road in the playoffs this year. After splitting the first two games, they are 4-3 at home.
“We just rise to the occasion,” Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos said. “History kind of shows you play a little more simple game on the road. You realize it’s going to be a tough night especially when you’re going up against a team like (the Islanders) in a building like this. You just expect the battle level, the compete level to rise to the occasion.”
The Islanders are 5-3 on the road and 4-3 at home.