It was clear what the Lightning were trying to do. From Game 1 to Game 2, they came out with more than a few extra shoves after the whistle and made a point to get in the Islanders’ faces every chance they could.
Tampa Bay recognized just how effective the Islanders can be at even strength, so the focus shifted to taking that away – and it worked.
At this point, it’s no secret that the Lightning are at their most dangerous when on the power play. By challenging the Islanders physically, Tampa Bay wound up with five man-advantage opportunities in Game 2 compared to the two it had in the series opener. The Lightning only capitalized on one, but the Islanders aren’t a team known for its shorthanded offensive abilities — and to beat the Lightning at their best, the Isles will need as much offense as they can muster.
It was a brilliant change in approach, because the Islanders don’t shy away from that kind of challenge. The Isles pride themselves on their toughness, which makes them an easy target to lure into extracurricular activities after the whistle.
“I think you saw what was going on a little bit, what I felt was going on,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said Thursday ahead of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup semifinal at Nassau Coliseum. “We rely on our five-on-five game. We know that their power play is hitting at ungodly numbers and so if we’re going to win this series, we have to stay out of the penalty box.
“They’re taking some liberties between whistles and all those things. A lot of scrums, we have to stay out of all that. Whistle to whistle, we’re going to play hard five-on-five. We’ll walk away from all that.
“The most important thing is trying to win the series and doing what it takes to win the series. We’re not going to get too involved in trying to play four-on-four or three-on-three, or make it a special teams event. We want to play them straight up five-on-five and our team is disciplined enough to do that.”
Not only did the Lightning succeed in getting on the power play, but they often sent the Islanders’ top penalty killers to the box. Who knows if their new game plan was that detailed, zeroing in on which Islanders would be most ideal to take off the ice during their power play, but regardless, it was successful.
Leo Komarov, one of the Isles’ top penalty killers, racked up 14 penalty minutes in Game 2 – including a 10-minute misconduct for tussling with Yanni Gourde. Scott Mayfield, another penalty killer, and Tampa Bay forward Pat Maroon earned matching penalties at 3:15 of the first to send the game to four-on-four play early.
Additionally, Matt Martin was seemingly a target as well. Martin may log the fewest amount of shifts of any Islanders forward, but he is an integral part of the “Identity” line. He is also the most likely Islander to drop the gloves. Maroon and Barclay Goodrow were both able to draw matching fighting/roughing penalties with Martin throughout the game.
“We got to make sure we’re not taking the extra, or even four on four, necessarily, depending on the tradeoff,” Mayfield said after the 4-2 loss in Game 2. “That’s part of the game. There’s a little bit more after the whistles [in Tuesday’s] game than the first one, maybe, but yeah, it’s part of the game.”