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Islanders survive a third-period charge to beat Lightning, tie semifinal 2-2

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During his availability with media on Saturday morning, Barry Trotz made abundantly clear the task for his New York Islanders.

“When you get this far, playing teams that don’t give up much, you’ve got to force yourself inside the door,” the Isles coach said in a Zoom call hours before Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. “You’ve got to kick the door open every time there’s an opening.”

It didn’t come without some hand-wringing in the third period on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, but the Islanders not only kicked that playoff door open, they looked around, got comfortable and put themselves on level ground with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The best-of-seven semifinal is tied 2-2 after the Isles hung on to beat the Lightning 3-2. Game 5 is on Monday in Tampa.

“Our game was good,” Trotz said. “Our 60-minute game was pretty decent, other than the seven or eight minutes where they had surged on us (in third period).

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“This is what we expected — 2-2 going back (to Tampa), it’s a best of three now.”

Tampa made a determined charge to erase a three-goal deficit in the final 20 minutes.

Brayden Point extended his goal streak to seven games when he snapped a quick shot past Semyon Varlamov at 3:45.

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In National Hockey League history, only Reggie Leach, who scored in 10 consecutive games with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1976, has a longer goal streak in one playoff year.

Less than three minutes after the Point goal, Tyler Johnson swept past a stick-check attempt by Josh Bailey and fired the puck into the top corner over Varlamov’s glove.

Trotz called a timeout after the Johnson goal and his club responded favourably, though Varlamov had to be sharp to stop Nikita Kucherov.

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Yet Tampa had one last gasp, and it appeared the game would be tied and headed to overtime.

With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh put a spinarama move on Brock Nelson, going to his backhand. That drew Varlamov out to challenge, giving McDonagh an open net.

Isles defenceman Ryan Pulock had the presence of mind to slide through the crease, stopping McDonagh’s shot and preserving the win.

“I just tried to make myself big and take (the net) away and I was able to get it,” Pulock said. “You hear the sound of the clock go and all the boys jump on you, it’s a good feeling.

“The situation that we’re in, how deep we are in the playoffs, how important these games are, there is no situation like this that I have had before. It feels good to score goals, but when you can save a game like that and get the win, it’s a good feeling.”

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Said Trotz: “That’s the great thing about our game. We can bring you out of your seats right until the last minute. What a save by Puly.”

New York has taken the same path through four games as it did to oust Pittsburgh and Boston in the first two rounds. The Islanders split on the road to start, lost Game 3 at home and then won Game 4 at home.

Against the Penguins and Bruins, the Islanders closed out the series in six games.

This 2021 Cup tournament has had surprises seemingly at every turn, but Trotz knows the challenge that will come in the attempt to beat the Lightning two more times.

“They’ve got balance,” Trotz said. “They can beat you with a grind game and a defensive game.

“In the earlier years, they weren’t going to beat you with the defensive game, they would get frustrated if they didn’t out-score you.

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“The biggest evolution (from Tampa’s pre-Cup days) is they’ve got respect on both sides of the puck.”

The Islanders scored three goals in a span of 12 1/2 minutes in the second period, breaking the game open and sending the crowd at Nassau deeper into a frenzy with each one.

Ross Colton of the Tampa Bay Lightning controls the puck against the New York Islanders during the third period in Game Four of the Stanley Cup Semifinals during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Coliseum on June 19, 2021 in Uniondale, New York.
Ross Colton of the Tampa Bay Lightning controls the puck against the New York Islanders during the third period in Game Four of the Stanley Cup Semifinals during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Coliseum on June 19, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

Bailey went top-corner glove on goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, shooting through the screen of McDonagh, to give New York a 1-0 lead at 5:30.

That came on the Isles’ seventh shot of the game. At that point, the Lightning had 17.

Mathew Barzal had an open net in which to deposit a rebound at 13:46, and Matt Martin scored his first of the playoffs when he flipped a rebound past Vasilevskiy at 17:57.

The Martin goal came after sustained pressure by New York. A failure by Point to clear the puck when he had a great chance to do so helped result in the goal.

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Tampa coach Jon Cooper challenged for offside on a sequence that happened 53 seconds before the goal. It failed.

“These guys have given it their all for a month and change, and sometimes you lay an egg, and we laid one in the second period,” Cooper said. “You realize how precious every period is and every shift is, and if you do bend, you can’t break. And in that second period we broke.

“I’m proud of the guys for the push in the third. (But) we can’t play 40 (minutes). We have to play 60.”

Tampa had an 11-4 advantage in shots on goal in the first period. It was the Islanders who came awfully close, however, to taking a lead on two occasions.

Kyle Palmieri, who later was moved up to a line with Jordan Eberle and Barzal, rang a shot off the post to Vasilevskiy’s right four minutes in.

Barzal also hit the post around the midway point.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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