TAMPA — The Islanders’ trip back to Florida for Game 5 was always going to be brief, but that didn’t mean they had to travel as lightly as they did.
It was clear from the moment the teams hit the ice Monday night at Amalie Arena, the Isles didn’t bring their usual aggressive play in the neutral zone, they forgot their defensive structure and must have accidentally left their energy back on Long Island.
So Tampa Bay handed the Islanders their largest margin of defeat in the franchise’s playoff history and their first shutout loss of the postseason with an 8-0 victory.
The Lightning, now leading the Stanley Cup semifinal series 3-2 after scoring 10 unanswered goals dating back to Game 4, have an opportunity to zap the Islanders out of the playoffs in Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum for potentially the last time Wednesday night.
“The game, this result, how we played, if this doesn’t motivate us, then I’m not too sure what will,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s nothing I can say that will motivate us. We just have to man up.”
There was no question it just wasn’t the Isles’ night. To further confirm it, the Islanders clanked two shots off the post and one off the side of the net in a single shift to start the second period after tripping over themselves and into a 3-0 hole through the opening 20 minutes.
That’s when the Islanders’ frustrations became too overwhelming to play through. After managing to stay out of the box in the first period, the Islanders racked up 13 penalty minutes during play in the middle frame.
The Lightning capitalized on two of their four power-play opportunities, which sandwiched an Ondrej Palat tip-in at 15:43 of the second to make it a 6-0 game heading into the third. But the Islanders had to take on the final frame without star center Mathew Barzal, who cross-checked Tampa Bay defenseman Jan Rutta in the head at the conclusion of the second and got tossed from the game — which could possibly result in a suspension for Game 6.
In response to Barzal’s cross-check, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper expressed his displeasure by deploying his top unit twice during the duration of the five-minute power play in the third despite the game already being out of hand.
So Brayden Point extended his scoring streak to eight games on that man-advantage opportunity before Luke Schenn flung a long shot from the top of the zone that ricocheted in off Ryan Pulock’s skate later in the third period. It was just that kind of night.
But the Islanders have been a team that can “park” these kinds of devastating losses all postseason long. They put the 5-4 loss to the Penguins in Game 3 of the first round behind them and went on to win three straight. It happened again after their heart-breaking overtime loss to the Bruins in Game 3 of the second round.
A loss is a loss, Kyle Palmieri pointed out, no matter how it plays out. But like they’ve done after each defeat this postseason, the Islanders immediately set their sights on what they can do better in the next contest.
Just about anything would be better than this one.
“This wasn’t our best game and we’re going to need our best game and we’re going to have to earn our right to keep playing,” Trotz said. “I’ve been with this group for a long time. I know the character of this group, and we’ll be ready.”