UNIONDALE, NY— Both the Islanders and Lightning are pinning future hopes on the last two top overall draft picks.
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and New York’s John Tavares played important roles in Saturday’s matinee. But three veterans infused the Islanders youth movement in propelling the club to a 5-4 win over the Lightning.
Doug Weight netted his first goal of the season, Martin Biron posted 38 saves and Richard Park scored twice, including the game-winner off his own rebound with 2:22 remaining to lift the Islanders to its second victory in three games. The 20-year-old Stamkos scored his team-leading 34th goal while added an assists before Tampa Bay lost its second straight.
The Islanders will look enter the two-week Olympic break with momentum by taking on Ottawa on Sunday. Eight losses in the last 10 games, including a seven-game losing skid, has forced head coach Scott Gordon’s team to scramble to stay in playoff contention with 21 games left.
“Out of those seven losses, they are some games in there that we played much better than we did tonight but the puck went in for us,” Gordon said. “Sometimes there isn’t any justice when you play well and you lose.”
Park pushed in
Blake Comeau’s rebound shot past goalie Antero Niittymaki for his first goal in 11 games to give the Islanders a 4-3 edge 17:12 into the second. Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie tallied the equalizer just 2:57 into the final period.
Neither Andy Sutton nor Andrew MacDonald covered Downie at the top of the crease, allowing him to easily push in Mattias Ohlund‘s pass.
Park responded in the waning minutes, wearing down Niittymaki and getting a boost from video replay. The Lighting netminder stopped the 34-year-old’s right post shot before the winger grabbed the rebound and moved behind the net.
Niittymaki slid over to make a pad save on the wraparound attempt before Park lifted his third chance high into the net’s right-hand corner. The puck appeared to hit the right post and move out before the video evidence confirmed the rubber touched the net for Park’s first multi-goal game since he torched Phoenix for a pair on Jan. 2, 2009.
“It was a fortunate call for us and we’ll take the two points,” Park said. “I thought it was in, but you never know.”
Rick DiPietro’s return last month relegated Biron to third-string status behind Dwayne Roloson. The 33-year-old Biron did not play in a NHL game for more than a month and was sent down to AHL Bridgeport before being recalled for Tuesday’s start against Nashville.
Biron beat the Predators for his first win since Nov. 11 and followed that up with his second straight victory, making a glove save on Kurtis Foster’s with exactly one minute to go.
The back-to-back wins could help boost Biron’s value to another club with the league’s March 3 trade deadline looming. The 11-year veteran is 4-11-2 on the season.
“Three goalies is not an easy situation for anyone,” Biron said. “We all try and give each other the support we need but we all know it would be this situation for the rest of the year.
“I still feel like I have plenty more I can do. I feel like I can play even better but to get a few wins here will help my confidence moving forward. Maybe that will help out more and who knows what will happen?”
Comeau started his two-point night with the opening goal 7:31 in. Rob Schremp and Comeau pressured Matt Walker in the corner, forcing a turnover. Schremp collected the puck and past to Comeau, who skated laterally across the crease before lifting a high shot off a prone Niittymaki for his seventh goal.
Tampa Bay failed to score on a 1:18 5-on-3 just minutes into the game, tied it almost four minutes later when Stamkos capitalized on Martin St. Louis’ pass for his fifth goal in five games.
Stamkos assisted on Mike Lundin’s goal 3:15 later. Both Stamkos and
the 19-year-old Tavares were top overall selections one year apart and wear No. 91.
Like Tavares, Stamkos showed flashes of greatness in his first year. But Stamkos’ additional season of experience paid off when the Lightning prodigy beat Tavares off a right circle faceoff to facilitate Lundin’s goal.
Kyle Okposo helped the Islanders close the defeceit, knocking down a Tampa Bay clearing attempt before finding an open Doug Weight’s first goal fired a shot from the slot off Okposo’s centering pass.
Weight scored his first goal in 30 games, dating back to April 30, 2009 in the previous season’s finale.
Tavares’ rough start turned ugly midway through the second when he turned the puck over on Alex Tanguay’s pressure. The Lightning turned the miscue into a go-ahead scored when former Islander Nate Thompson chipped in a loose puck in the crease for his second goal this season.
Tavares then atoned for the miscue, driving past last season’s No. 2 overall pick Victor Hedman behind Tampa’s net before finding Okposo for a right post tap-in goal to tie it at 3.
“We did some things right to give us those opportunities,” Gordon said. “We went to the net and made it hard for Niittymaki to control his rebounds.”
Park then sandwiched his two goals around Downie’s marker in helping the Islanders improve to 16-11-2 at Nassau Coliseum.
“We’re obviously trying to stay real positive and upbeat,” Park said. “Everyone knows we haven’t been getting the results we’ve wanted, but we’ve kept at it.”
Weight, the 39-year-old Islanders captain, scored his 276th career goal and also assisted on Park’s final goal.
“It’s great to see a guy like him— a great captain and one of the best guys I’ve ever played with—can still play at a high level and get us going,” Biron said. “His goal gave us a burst of energy. It was great for him.”