Behind a shutout performance by rookie goaltender Mike McKenna, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Islanders tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum by the score of 1-0.
The victory was the first time this season that Tampa Bay won a game in which they only scored one goal. Previously, the Lightning were 0-6-2 when scoring only one goal in a game.
Gary Roberts, appearing in only his second game after missing 28 consecutive with a left elbow injury, was credited with the winning goal, a re-direction of a shot from the right point, at 13:34 of the final period.
But the story tonight was McKenna, appearing in only his third NHL game and making only his second start. The 25-year old stopped all 28 Islander shots he face and now has allowed only 3 goals while facing 74 shots since being called up from Norfolk in the AHL, a .959 save percentage.
No sooner did the puck drop to open the game than the on-ice action began in earnest as defenseman Matt Smaby took on the Islander’s Tim Jackman with only 4 seconds off the clock. Jackman had tangled with Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier when the two teams met last Tuesday in New York.
Tampa Bay then took two additional penalties early in the period, a trip by Ryan Malone at 1:31 and a slashing call against Steve Downie at 4:52. The Lightning successfully held the Islanders scoreless with the man advantage, although the New Yorkers pumped six shots on McKenna during the two power plays.
Once the Lightning got their first opportunity with the extra man, when Richard Park was whistled for holding at 7:29, the momentum shifted in favor of the home team. Tampa Bay put together a string of 10 unanswered shots on Islander netminder Yann Danis, who had won the last four games he had started. At the conclusion of period one, Tampa Bay had collected a total of 16 shots (plus 6 more that the Islanders blocked) to only 7 shots on net for the Islanders.
The contest evened in the second period, with the Islanders getting the shot advantage, 9 to 5. Midway through the stanza, New York forward Trent Hunter had the best scoring opportunity of the night for the Islanders when his slapshot from the right face-off circle bounced over McKenna’s shoulder, but the goaltender reacted quickly and knocked the puck away before it could slide across the goal line.
As the scoreless game rolled into the final period, Danis continued to frustrate the Lightning scoring attempts. At 11:57, Vaclav Prospal gathered a pass from Martin St. Louis and sent the puck on net. For as good as the set-up was, the save by Danis was even better.
The Lightning finally got the puck past Danis with 6:26 remaining in the game when Steve Eminger’s shot from the right point hit an Islander defender in front of the net and, like a pinball hitting a bumper, bounced right back on his stick. He fired again, and this time the puck got through the traffic and Robert’s deflected the shot into the back of the net. The goal was the third for Roberts this season and was assisted by Eminger and Steve Stamkos.
“My game has always been going to the net,” Roberts said. “That’s what I did tonight and I was fortunate to tip one in.”
From that point forward, the Lightning clamped down on the Islanders defensively, always seeming to have four or five players back whenever New York tried to generate any offense.
The final opportunity for the Islanders came with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game when an outlet pass found forward Kyle Okposo just as he left the penalty box. Okposo took the pass, bore down on McKenna from the right side and fired the puck. McKenna, in perfect position, made the save and collected the win and the shutout.
“He’s a pretty unflappable kid,” Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet said. “This is his lifetime dream, to play in the NHL. How can you not root for a kid like that?”
For the rookie netminder, who wasn’t signed to a contract until earlier in the week, the game was a dream come true.
“I never thought that this was possible a week ago, “McKenna said. “It seems kind of surreal right now. When I came off the ice, my dad was right there…I never in my life saw my dad so emotional.”
It wasn’t just his dad. When the idea of what he had accomplished began to sink in, Mike McKenna was pretty emotional, too.