Referee helps doom Islanders with Adam Pelech penalty

You can’t make it up.

Except that one of the fine referees working Thursday’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at the Coliseum did just that.

Eric Furlatt made up a make-up call late in the second period, whistling Adam Pelech off the ice for an arbitrary interference infraction after the defenseman had briefly become entangled with Nikita Kucherov away from the play. It’s the kind of interaction that happens a dozen times a game.

But at that point, at 17:38, the Lightning hadn’t had a power play. The Islanders had one. So Furlatt consulted his game-management guide and sent Pelech off just 37 seconds after Cal Clutterbuck had banged one in off one of the match’s thousands of goalmouth scrambles to bring his team level at 1-1.

“I didn’t think there was much there, at all,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “But you’ve got to fight through those things, and we did. It was just the few seconds at the end.”

The Islanders did kill it off, but it was only four seconds after Pelech gained his work release and could join the play that Brayden Point found a loose puck in front while falling to the ice and somehow snaked it through Semyon Varlamov at 19:42 for the 2-1 lead that held until the final buzzer.

The Islanders are a no-excuse team. Trotz did not pound the podium and, unsolicited, blurt out his opinion of the penalty. He was asked about it late in the Zoom session. The call did not necessarily cost the Islanders the game, for who knows if they would have been able to produce a second goal against Tampa Bay’s defensive wall even had the match continued into the weekend.

But it sure did not help. The defending champs are formidable enough without getting that kind of a break. The defending champs were sure formidable defending in this one in disrupting attempted Islander breakouts at one end and getting sticks and bodies in the way of the puck at the other.

Fact is, the Islanders could only get 28 of their overall 62 attempts on Andrei Vasilevskiy, 21 tries blocked by 11 different players. True enough that Tampa Bay could get only 25 of their 52 attempts on Varlamov, but maybe that’s someone else’s column.

The Islanders who were at the other end of the Zoom calls seemed loath to laud the Lightning’s defensive effort. Apparently no one was in the mood to pump Tampa Bay’s tires. That’s fine. We get that.

But this was something pretty special over the full 200×85, exemplified over the final 1:44 with Varlamov on the bench and the Islanders going with six attackers. First, at their own end, they were stuck, apparently confounded by Kucherov’s forecheck presence at the top of the zone. It took way too much time for Mat Barzal — who was marked tightly by Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev or Victor Hedman through most of the match — to find an outlet and for the Islanders to move through the neutral zone.

Once encamped, the Islanders were kept to the outside. They couldn’t find lanes. There were no seams. They managed one attempt after pulling their goaltender, a Jordan Eberle backhand. It was blocked, naturally.

Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech was called for interference in what was a questionable call.
Getty Images

“We’re going to keep firing pucks at the net, that’s when we get our chances and get the second opportunities,” said Casey Cizikas, whose fine game included a hard-work assist on the Clutterbuck goal. “We’ve got to find the way to get it past the first guy.”

The Islanders for the most part clamped down on the Point line in this game that resembled a Big 10 Woody Hayes-era cloud of dust game. Kucherov did not have a lot of space. Neither did Ondrej Palat. Steven Stamkos, the target of, well, Barnyard chants, was held in check.

But the home boys just couldn’t find any space. The Lightning were unyielding. Even when the Islanders were able to get onto the attack, they couldn’t create. They couldn’t generate off the rush. For the most part, they couldn’t make accurate passes to even generate a rush game. It was like the traffic on the Northern State.

Barzal had a 24-11 edge in five-on-five attempts while on the ice but could never quite tee it up. His 79.9 percent expected goals for casts doubt on the worth of the stat, but the Islanders did have zone time with No. 13 on the ice. And the Identity Line did its job, repeatedly getting to the front.

But the Anthony Beauvillier-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey unit, the one that the team had leaned on the last two playoff seasons, suffered for the second straight game. The Islanders need more from Beauvillier, who Trotz said “needs to fight for more inches.” They also need more from Kyle Palmieri.

The Islanders went toe-to-toe with the champs. They were hanging in. They were even late in the second.

You couldn’t make it up.

But then Furlatt did.