Two nights after evening their conference finals series with Tampa Bay (Ryan Pulock preserved the win with a heroic, last-second save, denying Ryan McDonagh of what would have been the game-tying goal), the Islanders melted all the way down in Game 5, suffering their worst playoff defeat in franchise history. The Lightning, who defeated New York in six games during last year’s conference finals, dropped the hammer Monday night in Tampa, obliterating the Islanders in an 8-0 rout at Amalie Arena.
The Bolts set the tone early with three first-period goals including an even-strength contribution from Steven Stamkos, who snuck one past Isles netminder Semyon Varmalov just 45 seconds after the opening bell. That was one of two goals on the night for Stamkos, who also assisted on Brayden Point’s power-play tally early in the third period. Things got chippy when New York’s Mat Barzal leveled Tampa Bay defenseman Jan Rutta to end the second period, resulting in a five-minute major and Barzal’s immediate ejection.
A combined 85 penalty minutes were handed down Monday night with 46 stemming from this third-period scuffle between Matt Martin and Barclay Goodrow (both were assessed 10-minute misconducts with Goodrow incurring additional minors for roughing and cross-checking).
The Lightning finished just third in their own division during the regular season, but have gotten a boost this postseason from Nikita Kucherov, who predictably had his fingerprints all over Monday night’s win with three assists in a little under 15 minutes of ice time. Kucherov’s presence throughout the playoffs has been a source of controversy as the former Hart Trophy recipient did not appear in any of Tampa Bay’s 56 regular-season games. The Lightning were able to exploit a loophole, saving $9.5 million in cap space by stashing Kucherov on long-term injured reserve. Stamkos, whose 439 career goals are the most in franchise history, also played sparingly during the regular season, missing over a month with an unspecified “lower body” injury.
The fact Tampa Bay won 36 of 56 regular-season games (77 points) while essentially “saving” their two best players for the playoffs is a testament to how obscenely loaded the Lightning are and why the Bolts should be considered heavy favorites to win their second Stanley Cup in as many years. The defending champs will look to close out the Islanders when the series shifts to Long Island for Wednesday night’s Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum. New York has won five of eight at home this postseason, outscoring opponents 28-18 in that span.