The first 32 minutes of Islanders-Lightning Game 1 was the dictionary definition of a stalemate. But with one explosion from Isles leader Mat Barzal, New York took control.
More than halfway through the second period, Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevsky and Isles goalie Semyon Varlamov were keeping out anything and anyone, to the tune of 20 saves for Vasi and 18 saves for Varly. It was tense. It was tight. It was not at all difficult to imagine an overtime with the score still 0-0. But then Barzal took advantage of a lull in the Lightning defense to receive a long pass from Josh Bailey and turn on his tremendous speed. Barzy had the step on Tampa’s Jan Rutta, he fired the puck through Vasilevsky and into the net, and then he got tripped and sent himself sliding past the goal line for good measure.
The terrifying offense of the Tampa Bay Lighting, of course, could not be counted out just because of one measly play, but the Isles defense stepped up and continued to stymie them all through the final third of this game. Kyle Palmieri picked up a penalty very late in the second, but the Lighting power play couldn’t do anything with it. When guys like Stamkos and Kucherov had the puck on their sticks, daring Varlamov to get in between them and their game-tying goal by any means necessary, it was really frickin’ intimidating. But, to the Isles’ credit, in the game’s most crucial moments they did their best to ensure that the big chances were few and far between. From 9:52 of the third until 17:59, the Lightning didn’t manage a single shot on goal, as the Isles blocked one shot and took the puck away from the Bolts three times.
But New York wouldn’t have won this game if Vasilevsky hadn’t slipped up with 15 minutes remaining. That was when Ryan Pulock fired a shot straight at the Lightning goaltender from just inside the blue line. Vasilevsky was not screened. He definitely should have seen the puck the whole way. But he just couldn’t get down fast enough and let it travel through his five hole for some major consequences. Pulock’s goal turned out to be the game-winner, as a power play goal from Brayden Point in the final minute struck a nerve but couldn’t change the final outcome.
God, what a win for the Islanders, who have now crossed the halfway point of their Stanley Cup run with nine wins down and only seven to go. An easy and honestly pretty fair thing to do right now would be to compare this Game 1 with last year’s first game against the Lightning in 2020’s Stanley Semifinal, and if you do that, it looks fantastic, because New York got massacred in that game, 8-2. Now, not only do they have to win just three more against the Bolts, but they’ve gotten to this position already with three home games at Nassau still remaining. I told you they were going to be tougher this time!