Buzzer-beaters are supposed to be the territory of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, but the Tampa Bay Lightning moved the phenomenon 2800 miles to the Northwest on Wednesday night. Nikita Kucherov capped off the Bolts’ best offensive foray of the night by scoring off Ryan McDonagh’s cross-ice pass with just nine seconds left, which gave the Lightning a 2-1 win and a 2-0 stranglehold on the series.
What will really chap the Islanders’ ass is that this was a game where they got exactly what they wanted. They scored early, which means they got to run Barry Trotz’s high-speed trap from the face-off, and choke off any space happily and lustily for the entire night. This is what they do best, and they held the Lightning to just 21 shots and a lot of frustration watching the puck go nowhere meaningful for long stretches. And yet they weren’t able to breach Andrei Vasilevskiy’s goal more than Matt Martin’s first-minute twine-tickler, and against the Lightning you’ve got to do more than that. If you don’t bury them, they rise. Fuck, even their color-scheme is reminiscent of white-walkers.
What’s going to keep the Islanders up for the next couple nights is the realization that they just might be out of options. Though Game 1’s scoreline was truly ugly, the process that got there wasn’t all that flawed. The Lightning didn’t have an abnormal amount of shots or scoring chances — in fact, their number of scoring chances considered “high-danger” was exactly the same in Games 1 and 2. They even had more scoring chances in Game 2 than when they scored eight goals two nights ago. It’s just that the amount of firepower the Lightning sport can be too much for anyone when it’s clicking. It’s that amount of firepower that led the Lightning to not miss the net with any shot that didn’t get blocked until Game 1’s last minute, which is simply unheard of. It’s that firepower that doesn’t require them to have a high or even average amount of looks at the net to bury enough chances to win. They will simply score at a higher rate than the metrics suggest they should, or make more out of the chances they get than the metrics suggest they should, because they’re utterly loaded.
And all of this is without Steven Stamkos, it should be mentioned.
It’s hockey, and weird shit can happen all the time. But the Isles certainly can’t start to try and run-n-gun with the Lightning, unless they want a true ass-paddling. They have to keep the margins tight and hope Semyon Varlamov just outplays Vasilevskiy by a distance. Which is exactly what they did tonight, and it still ended gaining them nothing.
But the Lightning have been the best team in the NHL the past two years. It’s not even particularly close. The past two regular seasons, the Lightning have 13 more points than the next best team, Boston. They have 26 more than the third-best, Washington. That’s the same gap between Washington in 3rd and Montreal in 17th. Far too much attention is paid to their four games of shitting out their own intestines against Columbus last year, when we have 152 games of evidence of what they are. But that’s how our playoff-centric sporting culture works. A bad week can outshine two years of work.
They appear to be on the path to correcting that. The Islanders might not be anything more than bystanders, much like everyone else.
Back in the NBA bubble, if nothing else the Toronto Raptors can be champions who went out on their shields after forcing a Game 7 against Boston. Using only eight players and seeing four starters play over 50 minutes in a double-OT win that can only be described as guttural, they stayed alive behind Kyle Lowry’s 33 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Perhaps the Celtics ran out of gas at the end too, as their starters ran the last 22 minutes of the game without a sub. But who doesn’t want more of this anyway?
And in news of the weird, the Atlanta Braves put up 29 runs on the Miami Marlins, a modern-era record for a NL team. Adam Duvall led the charge with three homers including a grand-l slam, and the Braves belted seven homers in total. Jordan Yamamoto is the one heading for a support group, as he’s got 12 earned-runs to his name in one night and an ERA that’s over 18. The Marlins also become the first team to score nine runs and still lose by more than 16, much less 20.
Get your prop bets ready about whether the Falcons will score 29 at any point this season.