(Reuters) - The Tampa Bay Lightning led for less than seven minutes combined in Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Islanders. But a “quality, not quantity” approach to hockey has the Lightning heading home with a chance to close the series out Sunday afternoon.
Jason Garrison scored 1:34 into overtime Friday night as the Lightning beat the Islanders 2-1 at Barclays Center to take a three games to one series lead.
Tampa Bay the reigning Eastern Conference champions, can move on to the Eastern Conference Final by winning Game 5, which is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena in Tampa. The Lightning are on the verge of advancing despite leading for just 66 minutes and 21 seconds in the first four games.
“That experience last year, going to the final, really helped this group,” Lightning right winger Ryan Callahan said. “We just continue to go out there and work and we know we’ll get those opportunities eventually with the amount of skill we have. Hopefully one of them goes in. Tonight’s no different.”
Games 3 and 4 weren’t that much different for either team.
Garrison’s goal gave the Lightning its only lead of Friday night. Tampa Bay trailed for more than 47 minutes before right winger Nikita Kucherov tied the game 7:49 into the third.
In Game 3 on Tuesday, the Lightning led for just 6:40 but forced overtime on a last-minute third period goal by Kucherov. Center Brian Boyle then gave Tampa Bay a 5-4 win by scoring 2:48 into overtime.
“There’s no real panic button anymore,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “You don’t know whether it’s the first period or the third period on our bench. They’re just positive about the job they have ahead of them until the last buzzer. It’s been a lot of fun being around this group.”
The Islanders, meanwhile, are on the verge of suffering the same fate they handed to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. New York won that series in six games despite leading the Panthers for just 45 minutes and 54 seconds — and won two overtime games in which it didn’t lead until scoring the game-winning goal.
“The last two games have been good hockey games — that’s how close these two teams are, it’s one shot away from taking the (series) lead or not,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. “You can’t ask our guys for too much more.”
But if their season ends in this series, the Islanders will likely lament their inability to generate more offense Friday. Kyle Okposo scored a power play goal 4:20 into the first and nearly doubled the lead with 10:49 left, when Ryan Strome’s shot from in front of the net disappeared beneath squatting Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (27 saves). The call of no goal stood because replays couldn’t show if the puck ever crossed the line.
The Islanders ended up outshooting the Lightning 16-6 in the first but got just one shot during a four-minute power play following a pair of roughing penalties on Callahan.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to ‘Bish,’ because he saved us in the first,” Cooper said. “That could have kind of changed the tide of the game, especially when we didn’t have too much going.”
The Lightning outshot the Islanders 17-11 over the next two periods and finally produced the equalizer on a broken play behind the New York net. Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson picked up a puck lost by Nick Leddy and passed to Kucherov, whose shot fluttered over the right arm of goalie Thomas Greiss (20 saves).
“When we got that one, you could tell on our bench we had a good feeling of what could happen,” Cooper said. “And it happened.”
Garrison’s game-winner capped a chaotic sequence that included Islanders defenseman Calvin De Haan losing his stick. New York could not clear the puck, which eventually found its way to Garrison in front of the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo. De Haan eventually picked up a stick but accidentally screened goalie Thomas Greiss (20 saves) as Garrison’s slap shot sailed into the net.
“We had chances to get the puck out on the wall, we didn’t get it out,” Capuano said. “And then after that, we had pretty good D-zone coverage. You give that shot up all day long. But it had eyes.”