Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning’s depth the difference in Game 3 victory

(Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Coming into the second round matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders, secondary scoring was expected to be a huge X-factor. Both teams relied too heavily on their top lines during their first playoff series this season.

As irony would have it, each team had plenty of secondary scoring Tuesday, and the difference in Game 3 turned out to be one goal from the Lightning’s top-six forward group. With the victory, Tampa Bay has retaken home ice and leads the series 2-1.

Moving forward, the team who continues to have all four lines consistently scoring is going to have an edge in this matchup.

The Lightning, who beat the Islanders 5-4 on Tuesday, had a very top-heavy scoring effort during the first round. The Tampa Bay top line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn scored 10 of the team’s 12 goals in five games against Detroit.

With the help of one small adjustment, the Lightning have found their scoring depth in this series. Coach Jon Cooper moved Ondrej Palat up to the top line with Johnson and Kucherov, reuniting the “triplets” that were so successful last postseason.

Since then, one can see the gradual increase in scoring production. Palat and Kucherov each scored in Game 1 while Killorn, who swapped spots with Palat and moved down to the second unit, assisted center Valtteri Filppula’s goal, which was his first of the postseason.

In Game 2, even more players were able to contribute to the Lightning cause. Johnson scored a pair, including an empty-netter in the 4-1 victory, but second-line right wing Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Victor Hedman each scored their first of the postseason.

Both were heavily involved again in Game 3. Just like in Game 2, Hedman scored from the point on a slap shot, only this time he didn’t need a deflection, as his rocket flat-out beat Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss to the glove side. The goal put Tampa Bay ahead 2-1 halfway through the second period.

Drouin had an even bigger moment. After Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey knocked him out in the second period after a hard, clean hit, Drouin set up Kucherov’s game-tying goal with 39 seconds left in regulation. The score was the only one from a top-line forward in Game 3.

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The Lightning also received goals from Ryan Callahan and Vladislav Namestnikov on Tuesday. To cap it all off, third-line center Brian Boyle scored the overtime winner. When Tampa Bay, or any team for that matter, is receiving this type of depth scoring, it’s going to be very hard to beat them in the playoffs, and the Lightning appear to only be warming up.

As impressive as Tampa Bay’s scoring depth was Tuesday, New York’s was equally good. Third-line right wing Josh Bailey, who hadn’t played since Game 6 versus Florida, opened up the scoring in the first period. Including the playoffs, it was his first goal in 22 games, and then he scored again on the power play to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead in the third.

Defenseman Nick Leddy and fourth-line wing Cal Clutterbuck also notched scores, their first and second goals, respectively, of this postseason. Ironically, the difference in the game was Kucherov’s game-tying goal.

If Game 3 is any indication of what could be ahead in this series, it could go the distance. The two teams were very evenly matched, trading punches in a classic seesaw battle.

Both teams have to be pleased with the secondary scoring from Tuesday, but they have to make sure it isn’t a one-time thing. Although the adjustment to reunited the “triplets” was the start of it, Drouin, Hedman and Callahan are now all involved in the scoring too.

Even Namestnikov is finding a way to contribute in his limited ice time. He has a goal, an assist and five shots on goal in just 30:19 minutes of total ice time in the last three games.

As for New York, Bailey tasting his first bit of playoff success was absolutely huge. The weight has been lifted off his shoulders. Judging by the fact he scored again, maybe he is finally going to relax a bit and get to his game. New York could really use more from the third line.

They also need a bit more from the fourth line. Casey Cazikas, Matt Martin and Clutterbuck were the Energizer bunnies all season long, but didn’t do much in the first round. However, in this series, Clutterbuck has two goals and three points.

Strangely, it’s now the Islanders’ top line that has some questions. John Tavares has been masterful this postseason, but he has been held off the score sheet in the last two games, both losses for New York. He was also minus-2 on Tuesday. Furthermore, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen have no goals and just two points in the series.

Scoring depth is important, but the Lightning won Tuesday because all four units and the blue line contributed. All the sudden, the goal-scoring problem for the Islanders is on the top two lines rather than the bottom two.

The team that receives the most consistent production from all four lines is going to win the series.

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