Referee helps doom Islanders with phantom Adam Pelech penalty

The Islanders are a no-excuse outfit. They did not do enough to win this Game 3.

But you can’t make it up. One of the reasons they were defeated 2-1 by the Lightning at the Coliseum on Thursday to fall behind in the series, 2-1, is because one of the officials working the game did.

Make it up, that is.

Most of the first 30 minutes was played in the Islander end, Tampa Bay taking a 1-0 lead at 10:05 of the first period on Yanni Gourde’s score from close in on the right. The Lightning not only preserved the lead but seemed even more in control as the second period neared the halfway mark.

But a strong shift in which the Islanders could make two line changes while in possession in the offensive zone changed the tenor of the game. Suddenly, the Islanders were on the come, imposing their will on the Lightning. And their perseverance was rewarded when Cal Clutterbuck shoved one in off a mad scramble to tie the score at 17:01.

There’d been one power play at that point and it had belonged to the Islanders. That apparently was enough reason for referee Eric Furlatt to call Adam Pelech for an arbitrary interference penalty at 17:38. Made up the make-up call.

The Islanders killed it, but only four seconds after Pelech was released from the hoosegow, Brayden Point put one through Semyon Varlamov at 19:42 for his 10th goal in seven playoff games against the Islanders the past two years to send his team into the intermission with a 2-1 lead.

The Islanders were unable to overcome that despite carrying the play in the third and repeatedly storming the net.

The Islanders are known as a veteran team, and they are. But in discussing the evolution of the Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock pair into the team’s matchup tandem, head coach Barry Trotz opened a window into his approach to younger players looking to make their mark in the NHL. Remember, veterans such as Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and the injured Anders Lee grew up in the organization.

“When I got here I didn’t know much about either one of them in terms of their game,” said Trotz, who joined forces with then-recently hired president-general manager Lou Lamoriello in June 2018. “I felt we were in a little bit of a transitional period, where so much had been relied upon a [Nick] Leddy-[Johnny] Boychuk combination and if we were going to go anywhere we were going to have to get our younger players to take more of a piece of the overall pie.”

Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech was called for interference in what was a questionable call.
Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech was called for interference in what was a questionable call.
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Leddy came to the Islanders a week before the start of 2014-15 from the Blackhawks, with whom he had won the Cup in 2013. The club also acquired Boychuk, a 2011 Cup-winner with the Bruins, on the same day in twin moves pulled off by then-GM Garth Snow. The defensemen combined to become the club’s top pair.

Meanwhile, Pelech was drafted out of OHL in the third round and with the 65th selection of the 2012 entry draft. A year later, Pulock was a first-round, 15th-overall selection out of Brandon of the WHL. Both players served apprenticeships in the AHL, Pelech playing 105 games with Bridgeport and Pulock 163.

They both earned spots under Trotz for 2018-19, emerging late that season as the matchup pair.

“Early in camp I talked to them about trying to move them up in the lineup a bit, would they be ready for it, we talked about what their strengths and weaknesses were, and we slowly started to do that,” the coach said. “There was a point where we did it a little too quickly for them and had to pull them back.

“We would pull them back and give them the time to get their confidence back or getting some success and then we’d give them a little more and they’d get better and more comfortable. Now they have become a really reliable pair.

“So this is a normal development of two really smart young players and giving the confidence and showing them the ice for them to have a big effect on a game.”

And this approach isn’t unique to the defensemen.

“Everyone has their own schedule and time frame to feel comfortable with responsibility so I say all the time that it’s no different with any young player,” Trotz said. “We’re at an age where they come out of junior and they’ve got to do this and that and it’s so unfair to the kids these days with expectations.

“It is hard to dominate this league and especially when you’re in the transition from adolescent to adult when testing NHL veterans on a nightly basis. It’s so unfair that we expect that from these young players.

“There are only a few Connor McDavid’s who can do it right away,” said Trotz. “The rest have a different time frame but can be really good players, and that’s what we saw in Pelech and Pulock.”