NHL Playoffs: Lightning seek series stranglehold, Islanders search for answers

Barry Trotz might have saved the New York Islanders’ season by making a key lineup change prior to Game 4 of a first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Two rounds later, the Islanders’ head coach might be ready to shake things up again.

Islanders looking for answers on offense

The offensively challenged Islanders could shuffle their lines Saturday night when they play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of an NHL semifinal series at Uniondale, N.Y.

The Lightning took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series Thursday night, when Brayden Point scored the tie-breaking goal with 20 seconds left in the second period to lift visiting Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory.

The Islanders controlled the pace for most of the final two periods, a span in which they outshot the Lightning 21-14. New York had 10 straight shots during the second period, as well as eight of the first 10 shots in the third.

But the Islanders’ only goal was basically an own-goal by the Lightning. Cal Clutterbuck was credited with the tying tally with 2:59 left in the second, when he was near the crease with a trio of Tampa Bay players and was the last New York player to touch the puck before it squirted across the line.

The Lightning hemmed the Islanders in their own zone throughout the final 5:48, a span in which New York did not record a shot, even with the extra skater following goalie Semyon Varlamov’s dash off the ice with just under two minutes remaining.

Oliver Wahlstrom may play

oliver wahlstrom
May 22, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) celebrates his goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry (not pictured) with right wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26) during the second period of game four of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While Trotz said he was generally pleased with Game 3 and how evenly played it was, he acknowledged a potential change.

” … We’re looking into (it),” he said, searching for something to spark an offense that’s generated just five goals in the series.

A potential addition is right winger Oliver Wahlstrom, who hasn’t played since he was injured in Game 5 of the first round against the Penguins. That was just after Trotz switched from Varlamov to Ilya Sorokin with the Islanders down 2-1 in the series. Sorokin won the next three games as New York advanced.

“Some guys get small in the moment, especially in the playoffs — I didn’t think (Wahlstrom) did,” Trotz said Friday morning. “I have a lot of faith in what (Wahlstrom) can do for us if we put him in. And he is an option for us.”

Lightning look to 3-1 series lead

The Lightning’s level of play has been raised in the two games since a 2-1 loss in Sunday’s series opener. Tampa Bay hasn’t trailed since the final horn in Game 1 and followed up a rowdy Game 2 win — the teams combined for 20 penalties — with a far cleaner and more efficient outing Thursday, when the defending Stanley Cup champions recorded 21 blocked shots and Mikhail Sergachev (roughing in the second period) was whistled for the visitors’ only penalty.

The third-period shutdown of the Islanders was particularly satisfying for the Lightning, which has won eight straight games in which it entered the third with a one-goal lead.

“We know what our job is, we talked about it in between the second and third — we’ve got a one-goal lead going into the third period of a playoff game, we know what we have to do, we’ve done it time and time again,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “This group is comfortable in these situations.”

–Field Level Media