The Atlantic Division Final has become a race to three. And Jack Capuano believes in order for the New York Islanders to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since the epochal spring of 1993, his charges have to get in front of Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop.
Essentially, get in front to stay in front to potentially finish in front.
“I don’t think we got in front of him enough,” Capuano told reporters following the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the reigning, defending, undisputed Eastern Conference Champions in Game 2 at Amalie Arena. The series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 set for Tuesday (7 p.m., NBCSN) at Barclays Center.
“We started the game with power play after power play,” Capuano added. “They did a great job pressuring us all over the ice [and] kind of killed any surge of momentum that we had. As the game went on we started to do the right things but at the end of the day, for me, he’s a great goaltender and I don’t think we went to the paint as often as we could to take away his eyes.”
And with a few words, the task Capuano has laid out in front of his team is clear as the best-of-seven series shifts to the Borough of Kings: Create traffic.
Through the first two games, the Islanders have been outshot (67-42) and out-attempted (124-83) by the Lightning. The Islanders won Game 1 despite being outshot 36-22 and out-attempted 65-44, due in part to a two point performance from franchise cornerstone John Tavares and two goals, 2:29 apart, off the stick of Shane Prince at the end of the first period.
In Game 2, the Lightning outshot the Islanders 31-20 and had a 59-39 advantage in shot attempts. Key to the Lightning’s offensive attack was Jon Cooper’s decision to reunite The Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. The trio finished with two goals on seven shots and 16 shot attempts.
“They’re a quick team,” Capuano said of the Lightning. “They [had] some chances. Our goalie made some saves early but they found [a way to] squeak one in there that gave them some momentum, and they shut the door in the third. They did a good job. They had a lot of zone time.”
Another aspect of the game in which the Islanders lamented missed opportunities was the power play. The Islanders finished Game 2 1-for-5 on the man advantage with Nikolay Kulemin’s redirection of Thomas Hickey’s point shot accounting for their only goal.
For the series, the Islanders are 2-for-9 on the power play. By comparison, the Lightning are 1-for-7.
“We had a tremendous second half of the first period,” Tavares said. “Too bad the period ended. We had them hemmed in their zone. I think we’d like to capitalize on the power plays. They’re coming hard and we have to execute better. Once you’re able to move the puck and escape some of the pressure, get some pucks to the net.”
The Islanders called up Christopher Gibson, Scott Mayfield, Bracken Kearns, Marc-Andre Cliche, Michael Dal Colle and Justin Florek from AHL Bridgeport on Sunday. It is likely that all will serve as Black Aces.
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman.