The New York Islanders built a big lead and faced adversity late, but ultimately held off a Tampa Bay comeback for a 4-3 win over the Lightning in front of 15,322 fans Monday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum.
Michael Grabner, Matt Martin, Kyle Okposo and David Ullstrom scored for the Islanders, who out-shot the Lightning 45-26 for the team’s first two standings points of the season. Evgeni Nabokov, making his second consecutive appearance, stopped 23-of-26 shots to earn his first win.
“I thought it was a total team effort today,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “I give credit to our guys. We distributed the minutes well today. We matched up well throughout the game. Once (Steven) Stamkos’ line got a couple, we changed that matchup back to Frans Nielsen’s line. A lot of guys stayed with it, and a lot of guys played key minutes in key roles tonight.”
With a 4-0 lead early in the third period, Martin St. Louis scored for Tampa Bay at 2:22 to cut the lead to 4-1. Five minutes later, Benoit Pouliot scored following a scramble in front of Nabokov and Stamkos made the score 4-3 at the 8:00 mark on a one-timer from Cory Conacher.
Capuano called a timeout to rally the team after the momentum swing.
“I told them to just relax and play your game,” Capuano said. “I sense a different team than last year. We’ve got some veteran leadership on this team now. Guys are a year older than they were last year. This is the National Hockey League. There’s great players in this league. No lead is safe. You know [Tampa Bay] is going to get chances with the guys they have.”
The Islanders buckled down from that point forward, reversing the momentum back in their favor.
“We got back to some things we were doing well,” Tavares said. “We started skating again, getting pucks to the net, and driving to the net. We made it tough on their defense. We made them come 200 feet from their own end. That’s what made us successful early in the game and got us the 4-0 lead. This is a good thing to build off of and a good sign for our team.”
With 2:28 remaining in the contest, the Islanders drew a holding minor on Tampa Bay’s Nate Thompson. Just 41 seconds later, Keith Aulie went to the box for holding to give the Islanders a 5-on-3 power play. Tampa Bay goaltender Anders Lindback made several saves to keep the game close, but the short-handed Lightning were unable to get another crack at Nabokov.
The teams had wasted no time getting to know each other off the opening faceoff. Just one second into the game, Matt Martin and BJ Crombeen dropped the gloves, while on the other side of the ice, Joe Finley and Pierre-Cedric Labrie squared off. As the teams lined up to resume play, Colin McDonald and Ryan Malone were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct as they exchanged pleasantries.
“We wanted to get the crowd going early,” Martin said. “This was a big game for us. We needed to win it. The Coliseum - when it’s loud, it’s rockin’, and I wanted to get some momentum on our side to carry us through the game.”
The Islanders best opportunity of the first period came early, when Matt Carkner took a feed at the right point and knuckled a one-timer off the post behind Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback.
The Lightning, who went 3-for-7 on the man advantage Saturday against Washington, earned two power plays in the first period, but the Islanders held them off the board. Through two games, the Islanders are 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
“I thought we played pretty well structurally,” Nabokov said of the team’s penalty kill. “Stamkos had a couple shots on the back door, but he was outside and our guys grabbed the rebounds. I thought we killed well.”
The Islanders took control of the game in the second frame, outshooting the Lightning 16-8 in the period. During a power play, Mark Streit made a long pass from the Islanders goal line to Michael Grabner behind the Tampa Bay defense. The left wing fended off a defender, deked to his forehand and slid the puck past Lindback at the 6:50 mark. Nabokov earned the secondary assist on the play.
About 10 minutes later, Matt Martin doubled the Islanders lead on a breakaway of his own. As a Tampa Bay power play was winding down, a Lightning attack was thwarted when the puck hit Frans Nielsen’s broken stick lying in the Islanders zone. John Tavares picked up the puck and fired an outlet pass ahead to Martin, who was exiting the penalty box. Martin’s forehand shot found the twine at 16:23.
A minute later, Kyle Okposo put the Islanders ahead 3-0. He took a feed from Tavares as they entered the zone and wristed a shot from the left circle past Lindback.
Aucoin, who was 8-for-10 Saturday in the faceoff circle, won 9-of-12 draws Monday. The line of Aucoin, Ullstrom and Colin McDonald combined for 11 shots on goal while averaging 10:53 of ice time between the three of them.
Following the game, Nabokov said that the win was huge for the Islanders, especially with the team heading on a five-game, eight-day road trip beginning Thursday at Toronto.
“You don’t want to go on the road with an 0-2 record,” Nabokov said. “We felt like we played well enough to get a point against New Jersey, but we didn’t get it, so today, we wanted to get a win because we’re going on a long road trip. As important as this win is for our confidence, we’re only going to build on that if we win the next game.”
The Islanders leave for a five-game road trip beginning Thursday, Jan. 24, when they take on the Maple Leafs. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.
New York Islanders
Tampa Bay Lightning
12 Ryan Malone - 91 Steven Stamkos - 26 Martin St. Louis
89 Cory Conacher - 4 Vincent Lecavalier - 16 Teddy Purcell
67 Benoit Pouliot - 44 Nate Thompson - 11 Tom Pyatt
76 Pierre-Cedric Labrie - 18 Adam Hall - 19 BJ Crombeen
2 Eric Brewer - 25 Matthew Carle
6 Sami Salo - 77 Victor Hedman
3 Keith Aulie - 15 Brian Lee
39 Anders Lindback
32 Mathieu Garon