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Isles face first series deficit in Cup chase

Look to rebound on Wednesday from brutal Game 1 loss

September 9, 2020 John Torenli
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The New York Islanders weren’t interested in making excuses after their 8-2 humiliation at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at the NHL’s bubble site in Edmonton, Alberta on Monday.

So Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made one for them.

“Let’s be honest, this is a one-off,” Cooper said after his team swamped the Isles from start to finish during the Brooklyn/Long Island-based franchise’s first conference finals appearance since 1993.

“They had to grind through a seven-game series [with Philadelphia in Toronto] and then travel and play and change time zones.”

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To a man, the Isles denied that their epic series with the Flyers or the long plane ride following a night of celebrating in Toronto played a role in their first multi-goal loss since the NHL restart, and their first series deficit since these playoffs began.

“We’ve been through travel and transitions like this regular season, playoffs all before, so it just takes a few minutes to get your legs going a little bit and then you settled in,” team captain Anders Lee noted.

“I don’t think that was indicative of the whole game.”

What was obvious throughout the night was Tampa’s offensive firepower.

The highest scoring team in the league this season took just 74 seconds to ignite, taking a 1-0 lead on Brayden Point’s tally past starting goaltender Thomas Greiss, who posted a shutout in New York’s 4-0 blanking of Philadelphia in Game 7 of the conference semis on Saturday.

Greiss didn’t last long in this one.

After Jordan Eberle evened matters on a power-play goal, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh struck back for the Lightning, launching them on a streak of five unanswered goals before Nick Leddy potted one for the Isles at 8:46 of the third period.

By then, Greiss had been pulled after surrendering three goals on only nine shots and Semyon Varlamov suffered the rest, yielding the final five tallies while making 20 saves.

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz had not indicated who would be between the pipes for Wednesday’s Game 2 at press time, but didn’t take either of his netminders to task following the rare blowout defeat for his team.

“There’s not a whole lot our goalies could do on a lot of the chances,” Trotz said. “We need more help from the five guys in front of them as well. I was just looking to change the narrative of that first period a little bit and slow it down [by taking Greiss out].”

Changing the narrative of this series will be far more important for a New York squad that hasn’t had to battle from behind in any of its three previous series since the league restarted play in late July after a four-month layoff due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Point and Nikita Kucherov amassed five points apiece and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 23 saves for the Lightning, who had nearly a full week off following their five-game ousting of Boston in the previous round.

Trotz knows his team must close the gap in a hurry if it hopes to avert falling into a deeper hole against Tampa.

“We gave them too much space,” he lamented. “We were watching rather than participating. You can’t do that against Tampa. You’ve got to be hard on them. You’ve got to take away their space.

“You’ve got to take away their numbers and limit their chances. They’re going to get chances. They’re a good hockey team. They’ve got some very dynamic people as you saw tonight … We’ve just got to get to our game.”

The Isles’ game got them through Florida in four games in the qualifying round, past Washington in five games in the conference quarters and helped them end a 27-year conference finals drought vs. Philadelphia last weekend.

Now, however, it will be put to the test against a Tampa team that has gone at least this far in the playoffs in four of the previous six years.

“It’s a long series, it’s Game 1,” Lee insisted. “We dropped the ball tonight. We have an opportunity to come right back at it, fix our mistakes.

“We’re already looking forward to Game 2 especially after tonight. When you get this far in a series like this, you can’t dwell on the loss. You’ve got to be ready for the next one.”

Mathew Barzal and team captain Anders Lee (left) hope to help the Islanders even their Eastern Conference Finals series with Tampa Bay Wednesday night in Edmonton. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

Isle Have Another: Forward Cal Clutterbuck left Game 1 midway through the second period after taking a slap shot off his right ankle. “No update on him,” Trotz said of Clutterbuck’s status for Game 2. “Once we have an update we’ll get it to you.” … The Lightning scored three power-play goals vs. New York in Game 1 after the Isles had established a franchise record by killing off 16 straight opponents’ power plays over the previous nine playoff games. “Every time we made a mistake, they scored,” Trotz said. … The eight goals allowed by New York were the most the franchise had yielded in a playoff contest since an 8-3 loss to the arch rival Rangers in 1975. … Each of the Isles’ previous five playoff losses this year had come by one goal, including three defeats in overtime. … Game 3 is scheduled for Friday night at 8 p.m.

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