Coming into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the one goal for the New York Islanders had to be getting off to a quick start. They had the momentum coming off their dramatic double OT win against the Florida Panthers in round one while the Tampa Bay Lightning had been off since last Thursday. The last thing they could afford was to let the Bolts find their game early and unfortunately for New York, that’s exactly what happened. Ondrej Palat scored just 3 minutes into the first period – continuing a trend that plagued the Islanders against the Panthers as well.
Besides the fatigue factor, the Islanders were also dealing with criticism that their stellar fourth line had under-performed in the opening round and they were getting very little scoring outside of superstar captain John Tavares. All of these things righted themselves very quickly as the Islanders took a 1-0 series lead in Tampa Bay.
Fourth line center Casey Cizikas laid a massive hit on the Lightning’s Erik Condra at 4:45 of the first period and the Islanders were off. It started with defenseman Travis Hamonic getting a puck through traffic and squeezing through Ben Bishop to tie the score at 1. Shortly thereafter, Shane Prince made it 2-1 and then 3-1 as the first period came to a close. Embattled forward Ryan Strome, who was a healthy scratch for most of the first round due to his ineffectiveness, registered 2 assists in his return filling in for the injured Josh Bailey.
The Lightning had their chances, but another storyline that continued from the opening round was the play of Isles netminder Thomas Greiss. As Greiss stymied the Lightning attack, the aforementioned John Tavares made the score 4-1 as he rifled a shot over the shoulder of Bishop. Just two hours after Bishop was named one of three Vezina Trophy finalists, he was pulled from his net, giving up 4 goals on 13 shots.
The Lightning made it interesting scoring twice midway through the third period to cut the lead to 4-3; it seemed playing almost 10 periods of hockey in the last 5 days was finally catching up with New York. Greiss continued to stand on his head, robbing Jonathan Drouin on the doorstep with 9 minutes left in the third, and Nikita Kucherov on a wraparound attempt minutes later. With Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled, the Lightning nearly tied it but the Islanders fourth line struck again. Cal Clutterbuck blocked Valtteri Filppula‘s shot towards an open net – then on the ensuing clear it was Clutterbuck who raced down the ice to get the empty net goal to seal it, 5-3. The Islanders take the 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Saturday in Tampa Bay.