LONG ISLAND – Despite the New York Islanders losing 17 out of their last 20 games, it was a concern that the Tampa Bay Lightning might take the Isles lightly heading in to Tuesday’s tilt. While New York initially jumped ahead 2-0, the Bolts strung together a comeback in the last three minutes of play to steal two points in a 3-2 shootout win over the Islanders.
“I remember after the second we came off and I was thinking we’ve been shutout in seven out of eight periods on the road, but we’ve played pretty well in the third,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “We passed up too many shots tonight, but the boys stuck with it and we probably stole a couple points tonight.”
A big factor was the play of Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop, as his huge saves throughout the night made the difference in the game being a wash and the Lightning having a chance.
“You need your goalie to make the saves he should and maybe make a couple he shouldn’t,” Cooper said. “Breakaways are tough, but you need your goalie to make those saves to keep you in the game and it gave us a chance.”
Valtteri Filppula also scored two goals and a shootout tally to break a five-game scoring slump. It was his first multi-goal game since November 14 versus the Anaheim Ducks.
“It was nice to get a couple goals,” Filppula said. “And getting the win was the most important thing.”
The first period ended scoreless, but it did not come without some chances from both teams. The Islanders Josh Bailey had two breakaways, but neither managed to make it past Bishop, while blueliner Radko Gudas’ shot deflected in front of Evgeni Nabokov’s net and hit the post.
Tampa Bay fell behind immediately to begin the middle frame. With 1:28 left on the power play John Tavares fed a shot to Kyle Okposo at the point. Okposo wound up and sent a slapshot through a screen for a 1-0 lead 11 seconds into the second.
Bishop responded with two tremendous saves on Islanders’ breakaways. The Isles led a 2-on-0 into the offensive zone and Michael Grabner then sent the puck to Frans Nielsen who took a shot, which the Bolts’ netminder denied. Shortly after John Tavares tried to score on a Thomas Vanek deflection, but he again prevented a two-goal lead.
New York was given a little cushion with a tally from Nielsen to give the Isles a two-goal lead at 10:21 of the third. Almost mimicking an earlier play, Grabner fed the puck to Nielsen in the slot as he wristed a shot past Bishop for a 2-0 score.
With 2:53 left in regulation the Bolts denied Evgeni Nabokov a shutout. Nielsen gave the puck away to Filppula, who scored top shelf for a 2-1 game. And it was Filppula again that forced overtime by maintaining composure during a scramble in front of the Islanders’ net and somehow finding his way by Nabokov for a tie game with 3.8 seconds left in regulation.
“The first goal I got was a lucky one, I was surprised I got the puck, but I was happy it went in,” Filppula said. “On the second one there was a lot of guys in front of the net and I just stayed out of the pile hoping the puck would make its way out and to me.”
The two teams added one shot apiece in the extra frame to force a shootout with the score tied at two. The Lightning ended leading in shots 36-34 through 65 minutes of play. In the shootout, Filppula and Nikita Kucherov’s fancy hands were the difference as Nielsen was the only New York player able to score to give the Bolts four points out of a possible six to end their three-game road swing.
UP NEXT – The Lightning return to Tampa Bay tonight and will face the Nashville Predators Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. They will have another home game Saturday versus the Metropolitan Division’s Carolina Hurricanes, before heading to Sunrise, Florida to face division rival the Florida Panthers Monday.