Over the course of the first month of the season, one of the main story lines surrounding the Tampa Bay Lightning has been their inability to get off to a fast start most of the team. Leave it to the New York Islanders to provide the Lightning some relief in that department.
For the second time in ten days, the Lightning got off to an excellent start in the opening period against the Islanders, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes before coming away with a 4-1 victory at Amalie Arena on Thursday night. In the teams’ previous meeting in Brooklyn on November 1, the Bolts started things off with a 3-0 lead before cruising to a 6-1 win that night. Steven Stamkos led the way in this one with a goal and two assists, while Tyler Johnson tallied one goal and one assist, Nikita Kucherov and Brian Boyle each had one goal, and Andrei Vasilevskiy started his fifth game and picked up the win, making 31 saves. Many of Vasilevskiy’s biggest saves came in an uneven second period that kept the Islanders from truly getting back into it. Victor Hedman also tallied an assist, which was significant because it set the Lightning franchise record for most career assists by a defenseman. Hedman now has 188 helpers while wearing Lightning colors, taking over the top spot from Dan Boyle. Meanwhile, the Lightning’s play with the man advantage continued to shine, converting two out of six power play chances. After the game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper praised his team’s power play for giving them some positive momentum to build off of.
“You know what I really liked? I liked our power play. And I thought we really fed off that, and we were extremely fortunate they took a few penalties that enabled us to get going,” said Cooper. “Our 5-on-5 play, not until we got to the third period was it truly effective. I thought we passed up way too many shots. You need your special teams to help you out, and our power play got us jump-started.”
The Lightning shrugged off a sluggish opening seven minutes when they were given a power play following an elbowing penalty on John Tavares, and the Bolts took advantage, as Stamkos sniped a shot from the left circle past Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak at the 8:03 mark. The play started when Anton Stralman kept the puck in the Isles’ zone, where it ended up behind the goal line on the stick of Vlad Namestnikov, who dished it to Johnson in the right circle. Johnson found Stamkos, whose laser beam shot put the Bolts up 1-0 with his eighth goal of the season. It marked the first time the Lightning had scored the opening goal of the game in the first period while on home ice this season. The Islanders weren’t without their early opportunities, as Tavares had found Cal Clutterbuck for a one-timer from the slot following a Valtteri Filppula turnover, but the shot went high. New York also had a pair of 2-on-1’s in the they couldn’t convert, one of them a shorthanded chance for Nikolay Kulemin in the later stages of the period. Eleven minutes into the period, Kucherov continued his torrid play against the Islanders when he scored his fifth of the season off of Hedman’s record-setting assist, with Stamkos earning the secondary helper. The play began when Kucherov kept the puck in on the forecheck, getting it back to Stamkos behind the net. Stamkos got the puck back to Hedman, who worked a short cycle with Kucherov. Kucherov created space and beat Halak with a wrist shot from the left circle for a 2-0 lead. Vasilevskiy stood tall, making a few big timely saves to keep the score 2-0 going into the first intermission.
Tampa Bay’s play would flat-line in the second period, as the Islanders began to swarm and generate more scoring chances, including an early shot by Kulemin that squeaked through the crease following a rebound. Not long after that, Boyle took a shot that produced a rebound in the crease, but Cedric Paquette was unable to pounce on it. However, he was able to draw an interference penalty on Calvin de Haan, and for the second time, the Bolts would make the Isles pay for it. Johnson would finish off a give-and-go with Stamkos by one-timing a blistering shot from the left faceoff dot past Halak at the 2:50 mark, putting Tampa Bay up 3-1 and chasing Halak out of the game in favor of Thomas Greiss. In the team’s previous meeting on November 1, it was Greiss who was replaced by Halak. Stamkos got his second assist of the night, and Ondrej Palat picked up the secondary helper on Johnson’s fifth goal of the year. The Isles would continue to press the issue as the period went on, as Vasilevskiy would make a highlight-reel save on Casey Cizikas on a 4-on-1 rush. That’s right, a 4-on-1. A Brayden Point turnover at the New York blue line happened during a poorly-timed Lightning line change, sending the Islanders off to the races. However, Vasilevskiy came up huge with a right pad save on that rare 4-on-1 break. Unfortunately for the Bolts, they couldn’t build off of it, as they lost possession of the puck in the neutral zone, where it was picked up by the Isles’ Johnny Boychuk, who fed it up to Andrew Ladd. Ladd skated down the right wing and beat Vasilevskiy high to the short side at the 8:04 mark to cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-1 with his second goal of the year. Tampa Bay’s best chance over the remainder of the second period came during a power play when Stamkos launched a one-timer off the crossbar. The Islanders were also unable to capitalize on a late power play, as the Lightning went to the second intermission holding the two-goal lead despite being outshot 16-7 in the middle period and 25-17 for the game.
Heading into the third period, the Lightning knew they were fortunate enough to be up by two, but it was Boyle who provided them some breathing room just 1:08 into final frame. Paquette did a tremendous job of keeping the puck in the Isles’ zone and fed it to Boyle. Boyle went top shelf and beat Greiss for his fourth goal of the season. Tampa Bay’s 5-on-5 play improved over the course of the final period, as they had a long, extended shift in New York’s end at one point that saw the team’s fourth line of Boyle, Paquette, and JT Brown wear the Isles down before the top line of Kucherov, Stamkos, and Namestnikov jumped on the ice and kept the pressure up. Vasilevskiy even provided an exclamation point with a fantastic right pad save on a breakaway by the Islanders’ Shane Prince. New York would finish with a 32-28 edge in shots on goal, but the Lightning were firmly in control once Boyle gave them the 4-1 lead that would hold up as the final score.
With the victory, the Lightning improved to 8-5-1 on the season, including a 5-1-1 mark at home. They’ll be back in action on Saturday night when they host the San Jose Sharks at Amalie Arena at 7 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Steven Stamkos – The Lighting captain scored a power play goal and notched two assists, giving him a total of 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) on the season
2nd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Started his fifth game of the season and picked up his third win, making 31 saves, including a few dazzling stops that kept the Islanders from getting back into the game.
3rd Star: Tyler Johnson – Scored his fifth goal of the season on a wicked one-timer during a power play, while also tallying one assist.