One point. That’s all the Tampa Bay Lightning needed to lock down a playoff spot for the third season in a row. However, a desperate New York Islanders team had other plans.
In their first ever visit to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Lightning couldn’t build on a solid first period, as the Islanders overwhelmed Tampa Bay with their speed and broke open a 1-1 game with three second-period goals en route to a decisive 5-2 victory over the Bolts. As a result, the Lightning failed to clinch a playoff spot and fell four points behind the first-place Florida Panthers with three games remaining. The Panthers increased their lead in the division with a 4-3 win in Toronto. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop stopped 18 of 23 shots before getting pulled due to performance for just the second time this season.
John Tavares led the way with a goal and two assists for the Islanders, who outshot the Lighting 36-34. New York also got goals from Ryan Pulock, Matt Martin, Brock Nelson, and Johnny Boychuk. Alex Killorn and Victor Hedman tallied the goals for Tampa Bay.
In the opening period, the Lightning actually played some solid hockey, keeping it simple by simply putting pucks on net and playing a reasonably tight-checking game. Both teams maintained a good pace throughout the period, trading scoring chances throughout. Just 1:38 into the contest, Marek Zidlicky took a hooking penalty, giving the Bolts an early power play in which they had plenty of looks, several shot attempts, and good puck movement, but found themselves unable to convert. Their best chance was on a rebound that bounced to Alex Killorn that was turned aside by the right pad of New York goalie Thomas Greiss, who finished with 32 saves. The Islanders would lose defenseman Calvin de Haan after he blocked a shot by Nikita Kucherov on that power play and did not return, a blow for a team already missing fellow blue liner Travis Hamonic. A few minutes after Nikita Nesterov and Kyle Okposo dropped the gloves and wrestled each other, ending up with matching minors for roughing. During the four-on-four, Bishop looked like he was dialed in, making a save on Nick Leddy from the slot. Later in the period, the Bolts got another power play, but didn’t generate any chances of note, and soon after, New York took the lead. Pulock got his second goal of the season when a shot by Kyle Okposo deflected off of him as he was standing in front of Bishop untouched. Okposo and Tavares would get the assists. The Islanders then rode a surge of momentum and nearly increased their lead as Pulock fired a shot off the post. The game would get chippy late in the period as Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette laid a big hit on Thomas Hickey in the corner, and then immediately dropped the gloves with Pulock.
The Isles would carry a 1-0 lead and 1:50 of power play time into the second period, but found themselves unable to take advantage. Moments later, Killorn would score his first goal since March 5th against Carolina, tying the game 1-1 as they caught New York on a rush. Matt Carle would start the play off with a long-range bank pass off the boards that sprung Kucherov down the wing. Kucherov drew a defender to him and feathered a pass to Killorn, who was cutting to the net all alone. Killorn slipped the puck under Greiss at the 2:08 mark for his 14th goal. It looked like the Lightning were back in the game, but the Islanders were not phased, as they began to use their speed to create quality scoring chances and eventually overwhelm Tampa Bay. With nine minutes left in the period, the Lightning won a faceoff, but the Isles were able to chase the puck down and Martin found himself with the puck in the neutral zone, and he was off to the races. He flew through the neutral zone, got around Carle on the left wing, cut to the net, and beat Bishop with a shot that glanced off of Bishop’s glove, giving New York a 2-1 lead. Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas got the assists on Martin’s ninth of the season. A few minutes later, Paquette took a pass and cut into the Isles’ zone on a rush, firing a shot that was stopped by Greiss. There was a rebound, and both Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan were unable to get their sticks on the puck, as Callahan appeared to have his stick slashed out of his hand. New York then immediately went the other way, catching the Bolts on a partial line change on an odd-man rush, with Brock Nelson powering to the net and lifting a backhand past Bishop for his 26th goal, giving the Islanders a 3-1 lead with 4:37 left in the period. Thirty seconds later, JT Brown took a high-sticking penalty on Clutterbuck, who fell awkwardly into the boards and left the game. On the ensuing power play, Okposo found Frans Nielsen on a rush down the middle of the ice. Nielsen dished it into the left circle to Tavares, who had an open look and fired a shot through Bishop for his 30th goal, increasing New York’s lead to 4-1 just 1:08 after Nelson’s goal. It was a goal in which Bishop would probably want a do-over. Cizikas nearly made it 5-1 when he blocked a shot by Paquette and found himself on a breakaway, but Bishop was able to make the save. Hedman gave the Bolts hope when he scored a goal from a sharp angle that found its way past Greiss with 5.3 seconds left in the period. It was Hedman’s 10th goal of the year and it was a soft one, but it cut the Lightning’s deficit to 4-2 as Carle and Vlad Namestnikov got the helpers.
Tampa Bay found themselves with a key power play just 2:10 into the third period as Anders Lee was called for hooking. The Lightning had plenty of shot attempts, as Jason Garrison was important in generating a lot of chances, but once again, the Bolts were unable to capitalize. Just a short time later, New York made them pay, as Lee jumped out of the box and had another breakaway on Bishop, who had to make a pair of big saves. Tavares then pounced on a Hedman turnover in Tampa Bay’s zone, taking control of the puck and feeding it to Boychuk in the right circle. Boychuk then ripped a one-timer into the back of the net for a 5-2 lead at the 4:28 mark, ending Bishop’s night. Bishop was replaced for the remainder of the game by Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped all 13 shots he faced in the final period. Despite holding a 5-2 lead, the Islanders continued to press the issue, with Lee having another couple of solid chances that forced Vasilevskiy to make a pair of big saves. From that point on, the outcome wasn’t in doubt. New York cruised to the win, pulling within two points of the New York Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division while increasing their lead to Philadelphia to four points.
The Lightning will continue their road trip on Tuesday night when they make their only visit to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers in a nationally televised game on NBCSN. The opening faceoff is set for 7:30 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: John Tavares – Scored a goal and two assists, and his power play goal in the second period ended up being the dagger that the Lightning were unable to recover from.
2nd Star: Ryan Pulock – Opened up the scoring in the first period with his second goal of the season, and nearly had another when he rang a shot off the post later in the period. Also got into a fight with Cedric Paquette and was a physical presence for New York.
3rd Star: Anders Lee – Didn’t get on the scoresheet, but had six shots on goal and probably would’ve had a pair of goals if not for some quality saves by Ben Bishop. Consistently generated chances, as the Lightning were unable to contain his speed.
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