There is a different feeling in the New York Islanders dressing room these days and it shows on the ice. The young club is gaining confidence and gaining points in the standings. On Saturday night, the Islanders defeated the Tampa Bay Lighting at the Nassau Coliseum 4-2. The win kept the Isles in the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
There were reasons for the Islanders confidence to be shaken. They had to play this contest without top line winger Matt Moulson who was out with flu-like symptoms. It was the first game Moulson has missed after playing in 284 consecutive games for the Isles. Michael Grabner stepped up and took Moulson’s spot on the first line.
But the young team came out strong and controlled the first period, outshooting the Lightning 12-7 and taking a 1-0 on a goal by Grabner at the 14:45 mark. Grabner intercepted a clearing pass and launched a rocket shot over the shoulder of Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop and just under the cross bar from the left circle.
The Bolts battled back and tied the game in the second period on a goal by Richard Panik who scored his second of the season just 4:44 into the middle period to even the score at 1-1.
Instead of getting rattled, the Islanders got the goal back less than four minutes later on a goal by Josh Bailey. This was a goal Bailey wouldn’t have scored earlier in his career as he outmuscled the Tampa Bay defender for a loose puck in the slot and beat Bishop with a backhander to make it 2-1 Isles.
The Lightning tied it again early in the third period on a goal by Matt Carle that was largely due to Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov losing possession of his stick. The Russian netminder tried in vain to pick it up and made one save on the play before Carle tied the score exactly 4:00 into the third period.
In the past, this young team would have folded but instead, the Islanders gathered themselves and continued to put pressure on Bishop and did a good job of limiting the Lightning’s chances. The Islanders outshot the Lightning 12-6 in the final stanza and on the few occasions that they did allow quality scoring chances, Nabokov was equal to the task.
With 6:24 left in regulation time, Matt Martin’s third goal of the season broke the tie. Martin skated from right to left across the ice just inside the Tampa Bay blueline and beat a surprised Bishop who never saw the Islanders winger release the shot because he was screened on the play.
“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.”
Again, the Islanders showed increased maturity and confidence and their coach was pleased with their play. “After the Martin goal, I didn’t want us to change anything,” Isles Coach Jack 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.”
Andrew MacDonald put the icing on the cake with an empty net goal which he scored in his own zone while he was on his knees with just 14 seconds remaining.
This victory was particularly satisfying for the Islanders, although the team is far from satisfied as they chase their first playoff berth since 2007. “This is big for the guys in the room because they are seeing results,” center John Tavares said. ”The steps we’ve been taking are paying off.”
The win helped the Islanders open up a three point lead over the New Jersey Devils who lost in regulation to the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. New Jersey still has one game in hand.
The Islanders return to action Tuesday when they host the Philadelphia Flyers. Islanders tickets for this and other games are available.
The Islanders have allowed two or fewer goals in seven of their last eight games.
Jesse Joensuu made his NHL debut this season and led all players with eight shots on goal.
Attendance was 16,170 at the Nassau Coliseum