Tampa Bay goaltender Evgeni Nabokov took his turn on the Lightning homecoming tour Tuesday night, facing a New York Islanders team he played with over the past three seasons.
A day after a trio of Bolts – Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman – had a successful return to their former digs in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers, Nabokov wasn’t quite as fortunate.
New York surrendered the game’s opening goal to Alex Killorn in the first period, and then responded with three unanswered in the second, sparked by a shorthanded goal to open the period, to defeat Nabokov and the Lightning 5-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Nabokov, who signed with the Lightning as a free agent during the summer following 123 games as the Islanders’ starter in net, allowed five goals on 36 shots to fall to 2-3-0 on the season.
Nabokov, under heavy pressure all night, made 31 saves.
The Islanders improve to 5-1-0 when giving up the game’s opening goal, tops in the NHL.
“I thought things were going pretty well until…you know we’ve got a 1-0 lead going into the second period and give up a shorthanded goal,” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. “Can’t do that.”
Alex Killorn scored for the second game in a row to put the Lightning (13-5-2, 28 points) ahead 1-0 at the 11:53 mark of the first period. Jonathan Drouin passed to Jason Garrison along the blue line, and Garrison let go of a slap shot from the point. Killorn tried to tip the puck in the slot, but Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak (26 saves) blocked it away. Killorn’s rebound shot was saved again by Halak, but a second whack at the puck slid through the legs of Halak and trickled into goal.
New York (12-6-0, 24 points) took control in the second period, scoring three times and choking the life out of the Lightning, playing the second game of a back-to-back set. The Islanders were idle since losing to the Bolts on Saturday.
“It’s a tough spot, coming off a back-to-back,” Cooper said. “(The Islanders) were a hungry team, hadn’t played in a few days.”
Cal Clutterbuck put the Islanders on the scoreboard with a shorthanded goal to tie the score 39 seconds into the second period. As the Lightning were building the attack near their own blue line, Clutterbuck stole Anton Stralman’s mistimed pass and skated in alone to beat Nabokov from the right wing.
“(Stralman) made a tough read, but he’s done so much for us,” Cooper said. “Believe me, we’re not hanging anything on him. He’s been outstanding for us…He’s going to make one bad read in 20 games, that’s OK by me.”
Later in the second, the Islanders scored two goals in the span of 1:03 to take a commanding, two-goal lead on the Lightning. Mikhail Grabovski easily redirected a pass from Frans Nielsen into goal on the doorstep after Nielsen made a great move faking a shot before dishing to a wide-open Grabovski.
A wrist shot in the slot from Ryan Strome a little over a minute later put the Islanders ahead 3-1.
“Instead of potentially being 2-0 or worst-case scenario 1-0, it’s 1-1,” Cooper said, referring to the shorthanded goal. “And then they got some momentum out of that and next thing you now we’re down 3-1 and we’re chasing after that. So, that was a tough one for us.”
New York capitalized on the power play to open the third, Lubomir Visnovsky’s shot from the point tipped into the net by Brock Nelson, to make it 4-1 Islanders 36 seconds into the final period. The Islanders had an extended 5-on-3 at the beginning of the second period and were 1-for-6 on the power play overall.
Ondrej Palat scored his fifth goal of the season, rebounding a blocked shot from Matt Carle past Halak to cut into the Islanders’ lead about a minute-and-a-half after Visnovsky’s goal and get the Bolts within two.
Carle and Nikita Kucherov earned assists, Kucherov reaching double digits for helpers this season.
The Islanders pushed the lead back to three, though, Casey Cizikas skating free on a breakaway and shooting top shelf over Nabokov’s glove at 8:55 of the final period.
Three days after beating the Islanders 5-2, New York got its revenge with a 5-2 victory of its own over the Bolts.
Cedric Paquette started for the second game in a row but left the ice in pain after blocking a slap shot with his left foot in the first period. Paquette (lower-body injury) didn’t return.
“We can say whatever we want about giving up a shorty, but we gave up six power plays, an extended 5-on-3,” Cooper said. “We lose another forward. We’re in a back-to-back, and now we’re playing 50 minutes of the game with 11 forwards. That probably didn’t help out.”
Four of the Lightning’s seven losses, including Tuesday’s, have come during a three-game-in-four-nights stretch.
The Lightning entered as the NHL’s top scoring team with 70 goals through 19 games (3.68 goals a game) and having tallied five goals in two straight but could only muster a pair of goals against the Islanders.
New York outshot the Bolts 36-28.
Tampa Bay concludes its current road trip Thursday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, trailing the Bolts by eight points in the Atlantic Division standings. Start time is set for 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Tampa Bay returns to Amalie Arena on Saturday, November 20, for a rematch against the Minnesota Wild, which handed the Lightning their worst loss of the season (7-2 on Oct. 25).
The Bolts will wear their black jerseys for the third time.