The opening contest of the New York Islanders& Tampa Bay Lightning series saw the Isles embrace their forecheck that frustrated Tampa Bay’s breakouts and forced turnovers. While the pressure was not constant—the Lightning had the better of play in the opening and closing minutes, as well as during a few shifts where they moved the puck well while they got into the offensive zone—it was relentless. Getting across both blue lines proved difficult for the Lightning. The Islanders chipped pucks deep, pursued the puck, created turnovers, and either counterattacked or made Tampa Bay work to get the puck into the neutral zone, where the process repeated itself.
The result was evident. Some observers thought the Lightning were inattentive, slow, or lackadaisical, perhaps because they took the Islanders lightly. Lightning coach Jon Cooper thought his team simply didn’t have its head in the game and made poor, unthinking decisions. All of this may be true, but the Islanders’ approach to the game frustrated Tampa Bay and took advantage of what the Lightning offered. From midway through the first period until the last minutes of the game, the Islanders were comfortably in control most of the time, even generating more shots on goal than did Tampa Bay—an unusual feat for the boys from Long Island.
Watch the forecheck at work in the third period, when Tampa Bay had to get back into the game:
— Iván Ortiz (@iortizm) June 13, 2021
Tampa Bay’s carelessness, born of frustration and exhaustion, created a turnover that led to the Islanders’ first goal. Although he was heading off the ice, Steven Stamkos decided to try to make a pass in the offensive zone instead of sending the puck deep. The result was a gift-wrapped opportunity for an alert Josh Bailey and the anticipation of Mathew Barzal:
A Steven Stamkos turnover leads to a Matthew Barzal goal for the Islanders.
Isles net the first goal of the 2021 Stanley Cup semifinals.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) June 13, 2021
Ryan Pulock’s game-winning blast was a direct result of a stifling forecheck that led to a turnover where all Tampa Bay’s skaters could do was watch as Pulock’s shot eluded Andrei Vasilevskiy:
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) June 13, 2021
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay failed to get a single high-danger scoring chance off the rush and turned over the puck seven times (to the Islanders’ lone turnover), suggestive of just how much the Islanders derailed the Lightning’s offensive rhythm. That the Islanders took only two penalties meant that Tampa Bay’s lethal power play was not able to overcome their 5v5 woes.
Doubtless, Cooper and the Lightning will make adjustments to try to crack the forecheck and launch offensive rushes in Game 2; Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, is doubtless already anticipating this and devising responses. But the Islanders have an opportunity that they should do all they can to seize. Against Pittsburgh and Boston, they took the second game after dropping the initial contest (and then split at home, losing the third game before winning the fourth game). With the series opener in their back pockets, they should not be satisfied with a split that would allow the Lightning to regain their footing. No doubt a persistent forecheck will be part of another impressive team effort.
Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksDSimpson