The New York Islanders played their best 60 minute game of the season and rolled to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum. The Isles got goals from John Tavares, Matt Martin, Milan Jurcina, David Ullstrom and Matt Moulson while Al Montoya made 23 saves to earn the win. The Isles are now 4-0-1 in their last five games and are playing their best hockey of the young season.
All of the elements that the Isles were struggling with earlier in the season seemed to have turned around. They are getting strong play and secondary scoring from their second and third lines and are playing strong team defense in front of Montoya. The Isles special teams also played well tonight with the power play converting twice on five chances while the penalty kill kept the potent Lightning attack off the scoreboard in three chances with the man advantage.
“It’s having confidence in our game and sticking to our game plan,” Montoya explained. “Our team stuck to the system and we kept their shots to the outside for the most part. I don’t even think they had an odd man rush, for the most part and if they did, we had a guy coming back picking up that late guy. Hats off to the players, they did a great job.”
The Isles came out of the gate hard and picked up the first five shots on goal only to have the Lightning take a 1-0 lead on their first shot on goal of the game when Martin St. Louis deflected a slap shot from the point by Brett Clark at 6:55 of the first period. It was the 800th career point of St. Louis’ career.
The Isles struck back with three goals in the final six minutes of the first period. Tavares scored his first goal after a 13-game drought from the right circle. Moulson won a battle for the puck in the corner and fed Tavares who split two defenders and beat Bolts goalie Mathieu Garon on a wrist shot. Tavares now has seven points in his last three games.
Tim Wallace, recently recalled from Bridgeport, set up Martin’s goal with 1:34 left in the opening period. Wallace went behind the net and made a pretty backhand pass to Martin in the slot who tapped it into the open side of the net. It was Wallace’s first point as an Islander. He also led the team with seven hits in 9:37 of ice time.
“It creates space and makes the other team a little more timid,” Wallace said of his physical style of play. “It’s just part of my game.”
The Isles third goal came on the power play with just 5.5 seconds left in the period. Jurcina ended up with a tap in after two pretty cross ice passes by Mark Streit and Frans Nielsen got him the puck all alone in the slot. At the end of the first period, the Isles led 3-1.
After a scoreless second period, Ullstrom’s first career NHL goal at 3:19 of the third period increased the Islander lead to 4-1. It was set up by a perfect drop pass by Josh Bailey who had perhaps his strongest game of the season and is playing with a lot more confidence.
“I knew I had some time with the puck,” Bailey said. “I had my head up and I saw Wally driving the net and heard Ullie behind me and he was wide open. It was definitely nice to be a part of his first goal, it’s definitely a special moment in his career and for him, he’s such a great guy and a player with tons of skill. He works his butt off and it’s well deserved by him.”
Moulson closed out the scoring with 2:35 left in the game on a quick, high wrist shot that beat Garon over his glove to the short side. Moulson now has eight goals in his last five games and has scored in each of his last five contests.
There is more confidence in the Islanders locker room now than there has been all season. Bailey feels that this was the best full game the Isles have played this season. “We’ve played well in spurts but as far as 60 minutes goes, we played a pretty even keeled game. They were a tired team. We wanted to jump on them early and I think we did that.”
The Islanders return to action Thursday night when they host the Chicago Blackhawks. Tampa Bay heads to Madison Square Garden Thursday to take on the Rangers.
Matt Moulson led all Islanders with eight shots on goal in the game.
The Lightning featured five ex-Islanders in their lineup tonight including Dwayne Roloson who served as the backup goalie. Other former Isles included Marc-Andre Bergeron, Eric Brewer, Nate Thompson and Bruno Gervais