Matt Martin and Barclay Goodrow exchanged fisticuffs after a faceoff with 27.2 seconds left in the third period after the New York Islanders scored an empty net goal to seal the deal on a, 5-3, victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.
In short, we have a series and the powder keg just might be ready to explode.
Oh yeah and Brock Nelson scored the game-winning goal late in the third period before Jean-Gabriel Pageau added an insurance goal with the empty net tally while he was hooked and slashed by Lightning forward, Nikita Kucherov.
Game 4 should contain a little bit of everything and a lot of excitement if things keep trending in the direction of a budding rivalry as Tampa leads the series 2-1. Puck drop on Sunday is set for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC, while those in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.
1. Can’t give Tampa an inch.
The Islanders have made a habit in the last couple of games where, despite playing more to the beat of their own drum, New York can’t seem to hold a lead on prevent defense alone.
If New York is going to win more games, they’re going to need more offensive outbursts like they had– if you can call it that– in Game 3.
The Isles are going to need their defenders to defend, their two-way bottom-six players to contribute 100% and their top-six forwards to outscore the Lightning who can, in fact, score from any position in their lineup.
Well, we haven’t seen Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, score yet, but I wouldn’t put it past him.
Tampa is in the midst of one of those “anything is possible” postseasons and if New York wants to take control of that narrative– they can’t let the Lightning play their game.
A common theme from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the First Round to the Boston Bruins in the Second Round to, yes, even the Islanders in the Eastern Conference Final is that they simply don’t have the right matchups to go against the big scary, nasty, Lightning.
New York’s head coach, Barry Trotz, scratched Casey Cizikas and Andrew Ladd for Derick Brassard and Michael Dal Colle.
While Brassard’s (three hits, one blocked shot in 10:32 time on ice, 54 seconds of time on the power play) impact can be felt as a glue guy with a more well-rounded approach to today’s game– especially against Tampa– more so than a guy like Ladd, Trotz has kept Dal Colle’s time limited (9:54 TOI in Game 3).
Nonetheless, Leo Komarov centering the fourth line with Brasard and Dal Colle is a significant improvement in speed and mustering the puck where you want it to go while giving your top forwards some time to recover before going over the boards to generate more offense.
It should be ride or die with this fourth line for the time being.
3. More of the same, kind of.
The Islanders trailed the Lightning in shots on goal, 37-35, but stymied Tampa with some solid goaltending from Semyon Varlamov (10-5 in 17 games played, 16 starts, 2.26 goals against average, .913 save percentage, two shutouts) and the overall schematics interwoven in Trotz’s game plan.
New York really wore Tampa down as the game progressed and capitalized on their chances, but the backdoor was left open for large stretches of the game, which the Bolts took full advantage of– tying the game, 1-1, at 16:31 of the first period, courtesy of Mikhail Sergachev’s second goal this postseason and even pulled even after trailing by two-goals, 3-1, entering the third period.
Ondrej Palat (7) scored a power-play goal at 2:32 and Tyler Johnson (4) tied the game, 3-3, at 12:04 of the third period.
Now, it’s important to note that Game 3 was more of the same for New York until they realized they needed a 60-minute effort and that nothing about Game 3 was the same for Tampa, since Brayden Point was not in the lineup due to injury.
Yes, the Lightning did not have the services of their leading scorer and head coach, Jon Cooper, wouldn’t provide much of an update (if even an update at all, really) ahead of Friday night’s action.
4. Nikita Kucherov has his moments. Don’t take the bait.
Kucherov hooked and slashed Pageau while skating towards and immediately as/after he shot the rubber biscuit into the empty twine to secure the, 5-3, win for the Isles.
Pageau took exception to what Kucherov was already going to be penalized for had Pageau inexplicably missed the open net and caused a scrum instead of a proper goal celebration at 19:24 of the third period.
Kucherov has been suspended in the past– specifically for an illegal hit to the head last postseason– and shouldn’t distract the Islanders from stooping to his level when he crosses a line.
The goal should always be to get your revenge on the scoreboard– especially if the officials on the ice are making the right call in accordance with the rule book.
Otherwise, the Islanders don’t need to amass any retaliation penalties for what’s either an invite to the descent into an ugly outing or simply the overt frustrations of a player that has shown an intent to injure and should be reprimanded as such.
None of that takes away from Kucherov’s ability to score, as long as he isn’t out of the lineup due to his own on-ice behavior.
5. Is somebody getting the best, the best, the best of you?
Don’t let emotions get in the way of the game.
You could argue this goes hand-in-hand with the takeaway above, but 1) all five takeaways are pretty similar after Game 3 and 2) this one has more to do with the toughness of each team’s lineup.
For the Islanders, there’s no need to fear Tampa’s tough guys. New York didn’t need to add any toughness at the trade deadline– they already had Martin, Komarov and crew.
The Lightning did.
They got Blake Coleman and Goodrow, which makes them tougher, but cannot negate the cohesion that Islanders General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, has planned since day one.
As long as the Isles play their cards right, Tampa’s style might take them over the edge and into undisciplined turmoil.
As always, make them pay on the scoreboard and in good, clean, hits.
That goes for both teams, in case Lightning fans were thinking this was solely about New York.