It’s no surprise that the Islanders and Lightning series has been tightly-contested. These are two of the elite teams in the league defensively and in between the pipes. But the Islanders like to play a more physical style more than the Bolts. It’s what helped them wear down Pittsburgh and Boston.
That element seems to have gone missing a bit in the first three games of this series. And it was quite apparent last night in their Game 3 2-1 loss.
“A lot of stuff they got, I think we gave it to them,” head coach Barry Trotz said postgame. “It’s funny, as you go along this path, you go deeper and deeper, the teams get better and better. You’ve got to dig in harder and harder.”
You would have thought with the frenzied Nassau Coliseum crowd behind them the Islanders would have come out and tried to punch Tampa Bay in the mouth. Wrong. From the jump, the Isles didn’t make things hard on Tampa Bay at all. They let them get to their game early and it stayed that way most of the night.
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It was hard to remember outside of the two or three pushes the Isles had during the contest where they won a puck battle, board battle or truly emphasized getting in the grill of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Way too often was he able to see everything or didn’t have to work to make any difficult stops or movements. Way too often was Tampa allowed to exit their own zone with ease. Granted the Lightning are terrific in their own end, but there wasn’t much from the Islanders to try to create a little havoc or force them into mistakes. And way too often wasn’t enough aggressiveness from the home side. Sure, the hit totals might say otherwise — the Islanders had a 39-26 advantage in the hits department — but most of the night the Islanders weren’t hard enough on the Lightning’s forwards or d-men.
And the question was asked on multiple occasions to the players after the game.
“I think we’re a pretty physically engaged team, said Matt Martin. Martin had five of the team’s 39 hits, second to d-man Adam Pelech’s six.
“I think that’s what makes us successful. There’s swings throughout the course of a hockey game where you try to take momentum and try to reassert it with zone time and getting lines tired out there and rolling them over. So you can certainly be more physical but it’s not easy. We just have to stay the course of the game.”
Easier said than done. The Lightning are a well-oiled machine and this was going to be a hard series no matter the opponent, they all are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, the Isles have been successful this postseason when they go right at their opponent, not around them.
We’ve seen it from the in droves from this group, so there’s no point in dwelling on last night.
Heading into tomorrow night, all the Islanders need to do is look back to the previous two series as the blueprint for how they need to move forward the rest of this series.
Against Pittsburgh and Boston in each Game 4 of their respective matchups, the Isles turned both games into dogfights (or street fights) for better terminology. They upped the ante physically, got in the opponents faces and dictated the pace from the start of the game.
The Isles are in a must-win situation for Game 4 now down 2-1 in the series. They’ve been in this situation before. But, just as Mathew Barzal said last round, going down 3-1 back on the road would be a “death sentence”.
That can scenario can be avoided. It starts with taking it to the Lightning tomorrow night and making things a lot more difficult than whatever they tried to do in Game 3.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @RTaub_