For the first time since 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s only been five years since their last appearance in the Final, but it’s been a road of heartbreak and upsets of seemingly unimaginable proportions until now– well, almost now (wouldn’t want to jinx anything).
The Bolts beat the New York Islanders, 4-1, in Game 4 on Sunday in what was a rather tame game despite the pregame meetings between Pat Maroon, some Lightning players and Isles players during warmups.
Maroon ultimately got the last word with an empty net goal, while Tampa and scored two goals in 12 seconds– to complete three goals combined between the two teams in 27 seconds– to stage a comeback victory after the Islanders took the, 1-0, lead in the second period.
With a win in Game 5 (Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN and TVAS) the Lightning can advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, which would be their third appearance in the Final in franchise history as the franchise hopes to capture its second Cup ring and first since winning it all in 2004.
1. Heroes and villains.
Mikhail Sergachev expressed what everyone in the series is thinking (to paraphrase– we don’t like them and they don’t like us), but Game 4 never really went the way that Game 3 did, which showed a testament to Tampa’s ability to regain their focus and play disciplined.
New York also didn’t get too caught up in the heat of the moment after the exchanges at the end of Game 3 resulted in a full game’s worth of misconducts and the pregame meeting between members of both clubs.
Should the Islanders try to get under the Lightning’s skin in Game 5?
Is that what it’s going to take for them to move mountains and get another win in the series?
Time will tell and that time is Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the Bolts got Brayden Point back in the lineup after he missed Game 3 with an injury.
With their first line back intact (Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat) the Lightning were able to get half of their goals on Sunday, which– if you took away Maroon’s empty net goal for being one without the challenge of an opposing goalie in the crease– were vital to Tampa’s success.
2. Islanders still haven’t figured out the “playing with the lead” thing.
So you took a, 1-0, lead at 11:27 of the second period courtesy of a Brock Nelson goal after surviving the first period onslaught that gave Tampa an, 11-5, shots on goal advantage heading into the middle frame– it’d be a shame if you can’t recapture the energy from the last game and do it again, right?
I mean, scoring a goal then avoiding too much of a prevent defense mindset because– it turns out– your best offense is your offense, so you should score more goals than the other team if you want to win a game is a good thing!
Well, sometimes people never learn and the New York Islanders haven’t learned.
In a 27-second span in the middle of the game, the Islanders had a, 1-0, lead, then trailed, 2-1, because playing with the lead hasn’t been a strong part of their game in the Eastern Conference Final.
Leading is so overrated anyway.
3. Warmup drills.
Two of the goals that were given up by Semyon Varlamov were the kind of goals that a backup goaltender usually has to save at the tail end of pregame warmups.
Varlamov could use some work on that last minute of warmups drill where everyone crowds the net and hacks at a puck until they beat their backup goaltender.
That’s the problem, though, unless Thomas Greiss is starting in Game 5, net front traffic isn’t something Varlamov will see much of unless the Islanders work on it in practice.
Regardless, Varlamov’s fallen to a 10-6 record in 18 games played this postseason with a 2.30 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, as well as two shutouts in that span.
4. Still no shutouts.
Speaking of shutouts, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 13-4 record in all 17 games for the Lightning this postseason, as well as a 1.93 GAA and a .930 SV% in that span.
But you know what he doesn’t have for some strange reason that can only be explained best as “because hockey”?
That’s right, Vasilevskiy does not have a shutout this postseason.
In fact, in 50 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, Tampa’s netminder has never recorded a postseason shutout– dating back to four appearances in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How is this even remotely possible? Especially with the Bolts’ defense!
5. It’s beginning to look a lot like 1993.
Just like when they were ousted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Prince of Wales Conference Final, New York could be eliminated in five games– only this time by the Lightning in the since rebranded Eastern Conference.
Unlike in 1993, however, whereas the Islanders won Game 4 against Montreal in that series to hold off elimination for another day and avoid being swept by the eventual 1993 Stanley Cup champions, the Islanders won Game 3 against Tampa and had a better shot at evening the series 2-2 than they did 27 years ago.
That said, if New York loses in Game 5, then that 36 years that it’s been since the Islanders were last in the Stanley Cup Final turns another year older in 2021.
Tampa Bay has never lost a series when they’ve led 3-1.