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Lightning rally late, but comeback falls short against the Islanders

Photo Courtesy Wayne Masut | Senior Staff Photographer

Despite not facing a lot of adversity this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have shown a high level of resiliency when they have. Unfortunately, digging yourself an early hole and then making a late rally is never an ideal way to try and earn a win.

The Lightning (15-3-2) saw their five-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the New York Islanders (11-6-2) by a 5-3 score at Amalie Arena on Saturday night. Tampa Bay trailed 4-0 early in the third period, and while they nearly came back, their rally was too little, too late. The Lightning came out flat for much of the opening 20 minutes, and they found themselves playing catch-up the rest of the way.

“Tonight was a little bit of a reality check for us, there’s no question,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “Not in the grand scheme of how the game was, but how we came out. Good, responsible players were turning the puck over on the first shift. You’ve gotta work and you’ve gotta be responsible. We weren’t responsible, and all of a sudden, 40 seconds in, we’re down 1-0. It was just a trickle down effect. We were off.”

Cooper also added, “You have to give the Islanders credit. They played hard, they blocked shots. Their goalie played well.”

For the second time in five games, the Lightning fell behind 1-0 in the opening minute.

Following a turnover by Brayden Point, the Isles cycled the puck down low. Josh Ho-Sang dished to John Tavares, who fed it to Andrew Ladd for a one-timer from the left circle. His shot beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 lead just 51 seconds into the contest.

Throughout the opening dozen minutes, the Isles tilted the ice heavily in their favor. They used an aggressive forecheck to keep the Lightning pinned deep in their zone. Tampa Bay had no early answer for New York’s top line of Josh Bailey, Tavares, and Anders Lee. That trio continually pushed the Bolts back on their heels. Bailey sprung Tavares on a rush, and as he skated down the right wing into the Bolts’ zone, he found Lee trailing down the left wing. Lee beat Vasilevskiy for his 10th goal of the season and a 2-0 lead.

Over the course of the final eight minutes, Tampa Bay found their footing. Point drew a power play with 6:01 left after he was slashed on a breakaway, and the Bolts had multiple good looks with the extra man. Despite not being able to connect on that power play, the Lightning shifted the ice back into their favor. New York goalie Thomas Greiss made several solid stops, and the Lightning closed out the period with a 12-10 lead in shots on goal despite trailing 2-0.

Despite encouraging signs the Lightning could rally and make a comeback, they found themselves in a bigger hole in the second period.

Early on, the Islanders nearly went up 3-0. However, Vasilevskiy made a tremendous pad save off a rebound chance by Casey Cizikas. A short time later, Ondrej Palat lobbed the puck to Point for a breakaway. Unfortunately for the Bolts, he ran out of real estate and put the puck wide.

With 12:51 remaining on the clock, Brock Nelson made a tremendous move around Jake Dotchin in the corner and cut to the net. He roofed a shot top shelf to the far side past Vasilevskiy for a 3-0 Islanders lead. Tampa Bay earned some sustained pressure from the top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vlad Namestnikov, but they still couldn’t solve Greiss, who finished with 36 saves.

Due to the fact they were down by three, Tampa Bay had to take more chances, leading to more odd-man rushes for the Islanders. During a New York power play late in the period, Point stole the puck and made a move to create a shot, but lost the handle on the puck. It was that kind of night through two periods. The Bolts continued to hold the edge in shots, leading 25-24 in that department at the second intermission. Although the chances were there, the bounces weren’t in Tampa Bay’s favor at this point.

Early in the final period, the Islanders appeared to put this game on ice.

Only 1:05 into the final stanza, Lee notched his second goal of the evening off a rebound in front during a power play to put New York up 4-0. That goal snapped Tampa Bay’s streak of 19 consecutive power plays killed off. However, the Lightning would not go away, and the rally began just a couple of minutes later.

Gourde sparked the comeback with his fifth goal of the season, backhanding a rebound past Greiss at the 3:13 mark. Just 13 seconds later, Palat came blazing down the wing on an odd-man rush, roofing a shot past Greiss for his fifth of the campaign to make it 4-2. Point assisted on both goals, and Vasilevskiy even notched a helper on the Palat tally. Energized by the two goals and a reinvigorated home crowd, the Lightning swarmed the Islanders for an extended period of time. The Islanders came back and nearly restored the two-goal edge, but Vasilevskiy made back-to-back spectacular saves on Ladd and Cizikas to keep the Bolts within reach. Vasilevskiy finished with 28 saves. With 3:36 left on the clock, Gourde hit the back of the net for the second time tonight.

 

Gourde’s sixth of the season breathed more life into the Amalie Arena crowd, but Tampa Bay would get no closer. Tavares clinched it with an empty net goal and the Islanders left town with their third consecutive victory. Afterwards, Gourde and Palat admitted the Lightning’s first period effort cost them.

“In the first 10 minutes, we weren’t skating and we weren’t making the right plays,” said Gourde.

“We fought back but it was too late. No excuse, we have to play better in the first,” said Palat.

Tampa Bay will have three days off before returning to action Wednesday, November 22 against the Chicago Blackhawks at home. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.

 

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Anders Lee – Tallied two goals, including the eventual game-winner early in the third period.

2nd Star: Yanni Gourde – Scored a pair of goals that nearly helped spark the Lightning to a comeback in the final period.

3rd Star: John Tavares – Assisted on the Islanders’ first two goals and tacked on an empty net goal with just over 21 seconds remaining in the game.

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