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NHL

That Was An Ass-Kicking

Adam Pelech and Yanni Gourde scuffle
Mike Ehrmann/Getty

If the version of the New York Islanders that’s infuriated the rest of the league over the past few years has been good for anything, it’s spectacular goaltending, limited defensive mistakes, and an especially frustrating ability to prevent their opposition from building momentum. That all went to hell on Monday night. On the road in Game 5 of a 2-2 series, the Isles came out flat and played their worst game of the year at the worst possible time, as Tampa walked (skated?) all over them with odd-man rush after odd-man rush until finally, mercifully, the game ended with an 8-0 final score.

From a highlight standpoint, I have no idea where to even start with this overwhelming and comprehensive Tampa victory. I guess at the beginning. Steven Stamkos was weathering questions about his health and his lack of production heading into last night—he hadn’t scored since Game 4 against Carolina—but the puck bounced his way less than a minute into Monday’s action. A freak deflection from an Alex Killorn shot attempt sent the biscuit right back onto Stamkos’s stick, and then suddenly he had a wide-open opportunity at point-blank range to get his mojo back, and he did not miss. It would be Stamkos’s first of a three-point night.

From there, the game was a snowball rolling down a hill. Isles goalie Semyon Varlamov got pulled in the first period after allowing three goals on 16 shots, but he’s far from the first person you’d blame for this debacle. Yanni Gourde’s goal to make it 2-0 came from a turnover and then a deflection off Andy Greene’s stick. Goal No. 3 arrived on a rush after the Isles lost a faceoff in their attacking zone. And meanwhile, at the other end, Andrei Vasilevskiy answered the bell 21 times to pick up his third shutout of a dominant playoffs.

I could keep running down the rest of the Lightning goals from after Ilya Sorokin entered the game, but honestly, what would be the point? The only thing that happened after the first that could tangibly affect the rest of this series is the fact that the Isles started to lose their tempers, and Mat Barzal got ejected and put himself in danger of further disciplinary action for going after Jan Rutta.

The Isles were just boomed from start to finish. And I don’t know how you shake off such a monumentally lopsided scoreline as 8-0, but that’s what they have to do as they head back to the Island facing elimination ahead of Game 6. Head coach Barry Trotz did his best to put a positive spin on things, noting that this hopeless defeat wasn’t necessarily any worse than a heartbreaking one, but boy does he have his work cut out for him.

“At the end of the day, we’re going back home, it’s 3-2 and we’ve just got to focus on earning the right to keep playing,” Trotz said afterwards. “At the end of the day, we could’ve lost 1-0 tonight in double or triple overtime and it feels like it’s the same result.”

What’s on my mind but cannot under any circumstances be on the brains of the Isles is that New York is facing an impossible task, and I mean that about as literally as I can. The Tampa Bay Lightning have not lost back-to-back games in the playoffs ever since they were embarrassed by Columbus in 2019, in what feels like a whole other world. They’re now 12-0 coming off a loss, with all of those wins coming in front of Vasilevskiy. As the Lightning showed once again on Monday, they can be just absolutely vicious when they’re facing questions about their ability to get the job done, and they never play a bad game twice in a row. So even if the Isles do manage to take Game 6—which they’re still more than capable of doing, especially at home—coming back from a 3-2 deficit against this particular Lightning team will require solving an equation that nobody in the league has managed to crack. Yet.