Matt Martin broke a 2-2 tie with 6:26 remaining in regulation and Andrew MacDonald iced the game with an empty-net marker as the New York Islanders topped the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 16,170 at Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders never trailed, receiving goals from Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey as well. Evgeni Nabokov turned aside 19-of-21 shots to lift the Islanders to 6-1-1 in their last eight and 19-16-4 (42 points) overall, tied with the seventh-place New York Rangers and three points ahead of the ninth-place New Jersey Devils.
“After the Martin goal, I didn’t want us to change anything,” Capuano said. “We continued to play within the team concept and structure. We continued to play our game. And I thought we protected the blue lines. I thought we won the wall battles. I thought we did a lot of the little things which turned out to be the big things for us.”
Grabner, filling in on the top line for a scratched Matt Moulson (flu), scored his 12th of the season to give the Islanders a 1-0 advantage. The forward intercepted a pass while backchecking just inside the Lightning blue line and attacked the goal. Flanked by John Tavares on his left side, Grabner had an open shot from the slot and rifled the puck high-glove over Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop at 14:45 of the opening period.
“First I saw Johnny,” Grabner said. “But the other team went right to him and took him away. I was in a little bit of a stand-still and nobody else was around so I was able to walk right down the pipe. Obviously I'm going to try to take that shot. I think Boyes was on the other side too with their d-man. Maybe that kept [Bishop] in the net a little more. It was a quick play, so maybe he didn't have time to get out and challenge the shot.”
Five minutes into the second frame, Vincent Lecavalier set up Richard Panik with an open shot for his second goal of the season, tying the contest at 1-1. The goal ended a shutout streak of 96:44 for the Islanders against the Lightning, dating back to the third period of the Islanders 4-3 win on Jan. 21.
But Josh Bailey put the Islanders back in the driver’s seat before the game’s midway mark with his seventh tally of the season. Kyle Okposo stickhandled around the Lightning zone and flung the puck toward the slot. It wound up on Bailey’s stick and he maneuvered around the defender before backhanding it past Bishop at 8:22.
The Lightning evened the score again on a second-chance opportunity in front of Nabokov four minutes into the third. With the home team chasing the puck in their own zone, Steven Stamkos’ shot hit the chest of the Islanders goaltender and bounced into the slot for Matt Carle. The defenseman spun and beat Nabokov to make it 2-2.
The physicality picked up in the final period, but no penalties were called. A hit away from the puck on Keith Aucoin in the Tampa Bay zone midway through the third period riled up the crowd and the home bench, and the energy level for both teams crescendo until the final buzzer.
The Islanders threw nine of their 20 hits during the third period and eventually took the lead at 13:34 on Martin’s wrist shot. The winger took the zone on an attack and skated right to left looking for options before wristing one through a screen and between Bishop’s legs. Anders Lee and Mark Streit assisted on the game-winning goal.
“Casey (Cizikas) was going hard to the net, so I just tried to throw it there and hoped something good would happen,” Martin said. “I don’t think Bishop saw it, so a lot of credit goes to Casey on that one.”
Martin added that the team showed maturity, using the borderline calls that went against them as motivation to play harder.
“That’s what this time of the year is all about - controlling your emotions,” Martin said. “We know games are going to be physical; they’re going to be rough. For the most part, the refs are going to put their whistles away and let us decide the games because every game is so important right now. I think we knew what to expect, and I think we did a good job keeping our emotions in check.”
Bishop was pulled in favor of the extra attacker with 1:21 remaining. MacDonald blocked a puck in the Islanders zone and spun to the ice as he flipped it high over everybody and down the ice. It slid into the Tampa Bay net with less than 14 seconds remaining, giving the Islanders an insurance goal.
Following the game, Nabokov talked about the atmosphere at home and the importance of the two standings points.
“As far as I’m concerned, we are in the playoffs,” Nabokov said. “That’s what this is for us. We have to keep rolling. The key here is we can’t lose two or three in a row. We have to continue to find a way to get points.”
The Islanders have two days between games for the first time since Mar. 17-18. Their next game is April 9, when the Philadelphia Flyers make their second and final trip to the Coliseum for a 7:00 contest.
Notes: The Islanders are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, allowing two goals or fewer in seven of them … Matt Moulson’s consecutive games played streak ended at 284 games, good for the third-longest streak in franchise history (Billy Harris-576, Bob Nystrom-301) … Jesse Joensuu made his season debut, leading all players with eight shots in 10:49 of ice time … The Islanders outshot the Lightning 28-21 … The Islanders blocked 23 shots; Andrew MacDonald led all players with eight … Lubomir Visnovsky led the team with 22:51 of ice time.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
Tampa Bay Lightning
67 Benoit Pouliot - 91 Steven Stamkos - 26 Martin St. Louis
44 Nate Thompson - 4 Vincent Lecavalier - 14 Brett connolly
17 Alex Killorn - 11 Tom Pyatt - 16 Teddy Purcell
42 Dana Tyrell - 63 Tyler Johnson - 19 BJ Crombeen
25 Matt Carle - 2 Eric Brewer
55 Matt Taormina - 6 Sami Salo
3 Keith Aulie - 75 Radko Gudas
30 Ben Bishop
32 Mathieu Garon