Thomas Greiss or Semyon Varlamov?
It might not matter which goalie Islanders coach Barry Trotz turns to for Game 2 of New York’s Eastern Conference final series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
His more pressing concerns Tuesday, a day after an 8-2 drubbing in the series opener, were getting some rest for his weary team and addressing the defensive lapses that led to the franchise matching its most lopsided playoff loss.
“That to me is a sign of a little bit of mental focus or mental fatigue, whatever you want to call that yesterday. We weren’t as sharp,” Trotz said. “When’s the last time we’ve given up eight goals? I have no idea. But it happened. This team is much better, and I know they’ll respond.”
In the span of two days, the Islanders went from playing what Greiss called their best defensive game in years, a a 4-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 on Saturday, to being overwhelmed by the Lightning. A contributing factor was the quick turnaround Sunday as New York switched NHL bubble cities by flying from Toronto to Edmonton, Alberta. The team didn’t get much sleep and had to adjust to a time change before playing its sixth game in 10 days.
Without providing a hint of who he’ll start, Trotz brushed off concerns about goaltending, saying it was difficult to evaluate any of his players in a game that went south quickly.
The Lightning led 3-1 before the game was 11 minutes old, and 5-1 through two periods.
Greiss, who stopped 16 shots against the Flyers for his first career playoff shutout, was yanked after allowing three goals on nine shots.
Varlamov, who showed signs of fatigue when he allowed a combined nine goals on 63 shots in his previous two starts, wasn’t much better. He gave up five goals on 25 shots against Tampa Bay.
The Islanders blamed themselves for lacking the in-your-face defensive forechecking style that helped lead them to their first conference final in 27 years.
Defenceman Devon Toews said the lack of jump was apparent from the opening faceoff.
“Yesterday, that start wasn’t really there,” Toews said. “It just put us behind the 8-ball in the game, and we couldn’t really recover from it. Whether it’s the travel or just not being prepared, not ready for the game, whatever it is, we just chalk that up as a loss and move on.”
The disparity was clear on Tampa Bay’s opening goal, when Brayden Point burst up the left wing, sped around defenceman Ryan Pulock, drove to the net and wrapped the puck around Greiss. Point, with two goals and three assists, and Nikita Kucherov, with a goal and four assists, set franchise records for most points in a playoff game.
Of the 35 shots the Lightning took, only one missed the net, while 12 were blocked. That’s a tremendous departure from how the Islanders finished Game 7 against Philadelphia. The Flyers misfired on 11 of 27 shots directed at the net, and had another 22 blocked.
The Lightning, coming off a near-weeklong break, acknowledged they took advantage of a tired opponent. They won’t have a similar edge for Game 2.
“Obviously, they get a day to reset, probably clear their heads,” defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “Some of those games get easier to brush off your shoulders when you lose by a big margin like that. So we’re certainly going to be ready for a much better team.”
The Lightning have won five straight since losing Game 1 of their second-round series to Boston. The winning streak, the team’s longest in the playoffs since 2016, also includes a 7-1 rout of the Bruins in Game 3.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said the margin of victory wasn’t any sort of statement.
“If you want to make a statement game, that’s all fine for now. But it’s really only a statement if you can follow it up in Game 2,” he said.
“So if we come there and lay an egg tomorrow night and it’s 1-1, what kind of statement did we make?” Cooper added. “Let’s make a statement and be even better than we were last night and see where the chips fall. It’s a good first step, but just one little step.”
NOTES: Trotz said there’s a possibility checking-line forward Cal Clutterbuck will play Wednesday. Clutterbuck didn’t return after limping off midway through the second period, when he took Mikail Sergachev’s slap shot off his right ankle. … The Islanders’ only other six-goal margin of defeat in the playoffs came in a 6-0 loss to the Rangers in 1994. … The Lightning were the first team to score eight times in a conference finals series since Chicago’s 8-2 win over Edmonton in Game 1 of the 1992 Clarence Campbell Conference finals.
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press