The Islanders rode a spectacular goaltending performance from Kevin Poulin into a shootout, where Frans Nielsen scored winner to lift the Islanders to a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Poulin made 29 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped all three shootout attempts, backstopping the Islanders to their eighth road win in nine tries. The 23-year-old kept his team in the game long enough for Thomas Vanek to force overtime with his 17th goal of the season before Nielsen won the skills competition. The win was Poulin’s sixth in his last seven starts.
“Kevin was solid,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “He really controlled his rebounds. He was really poised back there and he made some timely saves. With [Evgeni Nabokov hurt], this is an opportunity for Kevin and hopefully he’ll keep playing the way he’s been playing for us.”
Poulin’s counterpart, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, also made 29 saves in regulation. Nielsen, the Islanders shootout ace, decided to forgo his trademark backhand move and instead snapped a shot five-hole on the 6’6” goaltender.
Nielsen also assisted on Vanek’s power-play goal, which put the Islanders on the board with 1:38 to play in the second period.
“I knew Vanek was going to [go to the slot],” Nielsen said. “We knew that they dropped their defense behind the center, so they would only have one guy in front of the net.”
The Islanders had fallen behind early, as Martin St. Louis scored a power-play goal 5:45 into the contest. The puck landed on St. Louis’ stick after Valtteri Filppula fanned on a one-timer in the slot and the captain buried the opportunity before Poulin could react to the broken play.
The early deficit set up the Islanders sixth comeback in their last six road wins.
“We were battling since they scored the go-ahead goal, but we were able to come back and play hard,” Poulin said. “We did the little things that made us successful.”
The win guarantees the Islanders finish their current six-game road trip with at least four wins, as they wrap up the trip with the front end of a home-and-home set with the Philadelphia Flyers. The puck drops on the road-trip wrap-up Saturday night at 7 p.m.
NOTES: Vanek’s tally ended a three-game goalless drought for the Islanders power play (0-for-10)… Andrew MacDonald led the Islanders with 27:12 TOI… Radek Martinek played his first game since Nov. 29, missing 22 contests with back spasms… Matt Donovan led the Islanders with five shots… Cal Clutterbuck led the Islanders with six hits… The Islanders went 33-33 (50%) in the dot.
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