The New York Islanders played their worst game of the Barry Trotz era at the worst possible time Monday night.
Beginning with Game 6 of the NHL semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Uniondale, N.Y. on Wednesday night, the Islanders will need two of their best games, in back-to-back fashion, to keep alive their hopes of making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 37 years while staving off the closing of Nassau Coliseum a little longer.
The Lighting moved within a win of a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final on Monday with a historic 8-0 thumping in Tampa.
It was the most lopsided win in Tampa Bay’s playoff history, the most lopsided playoff loss in Islanders history and the most lopsided NHL postseason game since April 21, 2001, when the Buffalo Sabres routed the Philadelphia Flyers, 8-0, in an Eastern Conference quarterfinals game.
“It was one of those nights where we couldn’t do anything right,” Trotz said. “We’ll just have to park it. At the end of the day, we’re going back home. It’s 3-2, we’ve just got to focus on earning the right to keep playing.”
The Islanders, who have prided themselves on defense and discipline in three seasons under Trotz, exhibited little of either Monday. The Lightning mounted eight odd-man rushes while scoring three goals and chasing Semyon Varlamov in the first.
It got worse from there for the Islanders, who were whistled for 12 penalties resulting in six power plays over the final two periods. Three of Tampa Bay’s final five goals were scored with the man advantage.
The costliest penalty may have been absorbed by star center Mathew Barzal, who was ejected after cross-checking Jan Rutta after the second-period buzzer. Rutta didn’t return. Trotz said he was disappointed in Barzal, who drew a $5,000 fine from the league on Tuesday.
“We have to leave our best game out there now, because obviously tonight wasn’t our best game,” Trotz said. “We put ourselves in a real tough bind.”
While the Lightning expect a far better effort from the Islanders in front of what will surely be a raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum, New York’s task might be even tougher considering that Tampa Bay has not lost back-to-back playoff games since being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 Eastern Conference first round.
On Wednesday, the Lightning will be looking to extend the dominance it began displaying in the third period of Game 4 Saturday night, when Tampa Bay scored twice and Ryan McDonagh was robbed of a game-tying goal when Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock slid across the crease to deflect the puck just before time expired in New York’s 3-2 win.
The 10 goals in the last four periods are three more than the Lightning scored in the first 11 periods of the series.
“The whole group, when we don’t play our game, we have the ability to break down the tape, recognize what we did wrong and make the corrections,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who scored the first of his two goals 45 seconds into the first period Monday night. “That just comes with experience, which we certainly have, and maturity as a group. When we don’t play our best, we’re going to bring it the next night.
“It’s what we expect from (the Islanders). So we’ll have to be prepared.”
–Field Level Media