Tampa Bay 20-year-old rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was 3:09 from marking another milestone in his short National Hockey League career after keeping the New York Islanders off the scoreboard through nearly 57 minutes of play.
Vasilevskiy got his first league victory in his NHL debut Tuesday in Philadelphia and was nearing a shutout with 42 saves.
The Islanders, however, finally broke through on shot No. 43, then scored the game-winner 12 seconds later to earn a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over the Lightning.
With the win, the Islanders take the season series, victorious in two out of three against Tampa Bay in 2014-15.
“Let’s be honest, the game doesn’t get like that without (Vasilevskiy),” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. “I don’t know who got the stars, but he should have been all three. He was outstanding.”
The Lightning (20-11-4, 44 points), who entered Saturday as the top team in the Atlantic Division, played their final game at New York’s venerable Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and finished 18-23-2 with a tie all-time.
After two scoreless periods of play, Brett Connolly broke the 0-0 deadlock at 9:16 of the final period, tipping Tyler Johnson’s shot past Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak (20 saves) at the net to put the Lightning ahead 1-0.
Johnson earned his team-leading 24th assist on the goal. Mark Barberio recorded his first point of the season with the second helper.
The Bolts had been outshot 29-9 after two periods, including 17-4 in the second. In total, New York had 17 more shots than the Lightning.
“If you’re gauging it on shots on goal and chances and stuff like that, yeah, it was a tough one for us, no question,” Cooper said.
Vasilevskiy pushed back facing wave after wave of pressure from New York (23-10-0, 46 points) but couldn’t hold on to the shutout.
The Islanders finally got on the scoreboard at 16:51 of the third period, John Tavares skating free into the slot and sending a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy to tie the score late.
Building off the momentum, Anders Lee produced the game-winner just 12 seconds later, redirecting Travis Hamonic’s shot from the right wing into the net.
The Islanders added an empty-net goal from Nikolay Kulemin at 18:49.
“I thought things kind of turned for us in the second when we had to kill so many penalties and were kind of on our heels a little bit,” Cooper said. “Then we went down to five defensemen halfway through the game and we got tired, so that didn’t help. It’s the end of a nine-day, five-game trip, we had a chance after all that to win the game. You’ve got a one-goal lead with five to go, we just ran out of gas.”
Vasilevskiy made 45 saves on 47 shots in a spectacular effort despite getting the loss. Over his first two NHL games, Vasilevskiy has stopped 68 of 71 shots.
“You hope to get him points out of this,” Cooper said. “He kept us in this game, and, ultimately, we generated 20-some shots or whatever. That’s not enough. One goal, you can’t expect your goaltenders every night to pitch a shutout for you. You’ve got to give them a little help, and we just haven’t been able to do that so far.”
The Lightning capped a five-game road trip at New York and finished 1-3-1.
Tampa Bay thought it had broken through at 4:20 of the opening period when Brian Boyle pushed the puck past Halak following a scramble in front of the net. The lamp lit for Boyle and the Lightning, but the officials went to video review and the puck was deemed to have been kicked into the net by Boyle’s leg as he was lying on the ground.
The Bolts have now dropped four of their last five and six of their last eight.
“We went through stretches like this last year when we went out west,” Cooper said. “It’s going to happen. We’ve got to put a stop to it. It’s got to end quickly.”
Ryan Callahan, playing in his ninth season in the NHL, skated in career game number 500 against the Islanders.
Tampa Bay defenseman Jason Garrison did not return from the second intermission and missed the third period.
“There’s concern but I don’t know for sure,” Cooper said. “You lose arguably one of your best defenders in a game that we were defending a lot, that didn’t help. We’ll see. I don’t know exactly what the extent of his injury is.”
The Lightning return to Amalie Arena on Tuesday, December 23, for a rematch against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first of three home games in a row and four contests for the Bolts before the close of 2014.