The Lightning are a talented, cerebral team, but the pesky Islanders already have the upper hand. Tampa Bay struggled offensively Sunday afternoon as the Isles’ defensive system claimed another victim.
“It looks like it is there, but they are pretty quick to take those lanes away,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said Monday. “We were sloppy with the puck and turned pucks over and that feeds into their game.”
With seven minutes remaining in the second period, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos corralled the puck at the offensive-zone blue line during the end of a shift. After an attempt to get the puck deep was blocked, he attempted a cross-ice pass to Anthony Cirelli. It landed on the stick of Josh Bailey, who fed a perfect pass to a breaking Mathew Barzal. Seconds later, the Islanders led 1-0.
“You have to just stick with the grinding game,” Stamkos said following Game 1. “Obviously, I was trying to make a play there and you see what can happen. They can go the other way and score and it can be the difference in the game. I need to be better in that situation.”
The Islanders suffocated the Lightning, whose top forward line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov recorded a combined three shots on goal.
“We managed pucks,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Monday when discussing Tampa Bay’s top unit. “It is wall play. It is staying above them. It is having smart people and giving [their top line] players they have to go through. You have to be aware and you have to be positionally strong. They are going to look for a different level.”
This success is nothing new. Led by veteran, two-way forwards, a fortified defensive unit and a coach who knows how to win, the Islanders have shut down the best of the best since Trotz took over. With Game 2 on Tuesday night, he was asked what his secret is.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” he said. “I’m not going to give any ammo to anybody else.”