The New York Islanders did everything but score for the first 53:19 of this hockey game. Despite controlling the tempo and outplaying the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, the Isles trailed 1-0. But goals by John Tavares and Anders Lee just 12 seconds apart gave the Isles the lead and an empty-net goal by Nikolay Kulemin gave the Isles a 3-1 victory. Jaroslav Halak made 20 saves to earn his second win in as many nights.
The Islanders controlled the game especially in the first two periods. They outshot the Lightning 29-9 through 40 minutes but could not get the puck past rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who played an outstanding game.
The home team continued their strong play in the third period but fell behind 1-0 on Brett Connolly‘s goal at 9:16. It was the only goal Halak would allow in the game.
But the Isles refused to get frustrated and continued to do the things that were working so well for them. In fact, the Tampa Bay goal motivated the home team.
“We knew we were doing what we wanted to do and we had control of the game,”Lee said-. “For one to go the other way, I think it kind of ticked us off a bit and it fired us up in the end.”
“We had a belief in that room that we were going to get one,” Isles‘ head coach Jack Capuano said.
That belief paid off. Tavares got the game-tying goal with just 3:09 left in regulation time on a shot from the slot. Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey got the assists. The Isles‘ captain was both excited and relieved to score his first goal in four games.
Lee gave the Isles their first lead of the game just 12 seconds later when he deflected a shot by Travis Hamonic from just inside the blueline.
“It was a great shot by Hammer (Hamonic), and I was able to get just enough of it to get it in,” Lee said.
Kulemin capped off the scoring with an emtpy-net goal with 1:11 left and the Islanders completed a four-point weekend.
The players were pleased with their performance, especially defensively. “I don‘t think we gave them too much”, defenseman Travis Hamonic said. “It was a pretty good effort from top to bottom for our lineup. We had all four lines going and all six defensemen and Jaro came up with a couple of big ones especially at the end.”
The Isles win improve their record on the season to 23-10-0. It was also the 13th home win for the Isles, matching their total for all of last season.
The Islanders return to action Tuesday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens who are presently in first place in the Atlantic Division.
The game was another sellout for the Isles as attendance was 16,170.
The Isles received a scare late in the game as Tavares left the ice holding his ear. After the game, Capuano announced Tavares was fine and just required a few stitches.
The Isles showed a brief video showing highlights of Evgeni Nabokov‘s stay with the team. Nabby served as the backup tonight for the Lightning.