Islanders look to go two up on Lightning


Thomas Hickey, John Tavares

At around 3:15 PM, the Islanders and Lightning do battle in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal in Tampa. After hanging on to take the first game 5-3 thanks to a Cal Clutterbuck empty netter that stopped a furious Bolts’ rally, the Islanders are in position to go two up on the Lightning.

From an Islander standpoint, the play of the cohesive fourth line of Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin had a excellent Game 1. They created havoc with Clutterbuck drawing two penalties while Martin and Cizikas threw their weight around. A Cizikas hit after Bolts’ forward Ondrej Palat scored the first goal was seen as the turning point. But it really was about goaltending. While Thomas Greiss (33 saves) continued to get it done at one end, Lightning Vezina candidate Ben Bishop failed at the other by allowing four goals on 13 shots.

Bishop let in two bad goals including Travis Hamonic’s tying marker that turned the first period around. However, he was not to blame on Shane Prince’s pair that came in a 2:29 span with his second coming with less than three seconds left to give the Isles a 3-1 lead. In both instances, the Lightning didn’t back check. Matt Carle was victimized on his first tally. He had a tough game while paired with Victor Hedman.

For the Isles, they finally got production from another line aside from captain John Tavares. The newly minted second line of Prince, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome were involved in the second and third goals. It was Strome who got the primary assists on Prince’s pair. Of course, Tavares would do his part by beating Bishop with an unscreened shot from the left circle short side on the power play which chased the Tampa starter. He’s having a great postseason with six goals and five assists for a playoff-leading 11 points in the Isles’ eight games.

One thing about the Lightning, they can strike quickly. As we saw with Nikita Kucherov finishing off his sixth from Carle and Hedman with the Isles hemmed in, it suddenly was all Lightning Bolts for the remainder of the third period. Tampa’s experience of losing in the Stanley Cup to Chicago can help them get back in games. Even minus top sniper Steven Stamkos and key defenseman Anton Stralman, they still boast the ever dangerous Triplets featuring Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Palat. Plus Hedman is like an extra forward quarterbacking at the point.

The Bolts clawed within one on Valtteri Filppula’s tally from Alex Killorn and Jason Garrison with 2:32 remaining. Plenty of time for them to pull backup Andrei Vasilevski for an extra attacker. But Greiss made a few key stops and Clutterbuck sealed an Islander win.

Already gaining at least a split of the first two road games, the Isles can deliver a big blow. If they are to prevail today, it would put Tampa in a 2-0 hole with the next two games at the loud Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. One would think the Lightning will be desperate to even the series. They’ll need a much better Bishop and some early scoring to get to Greiss in order to do so.

The game can be seen exclusively on NBC. Face off is a few minutes away. It should be interesting.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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