UNIONDALE, N.Y. (Dec. 6, 2011) – Trailing by a 1-0 score late into the first period, the New York Islanders answered with three goals in the last six minutes, and never looked back, as they topped Eastern Conference nemesis, the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-1, in the third of four season match-ups on Tuesday at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. The Isles also got a pair of insurance tallies in the third, as they have posted a 4-0-1 mark in their past five contests, and picked up nine of a possible 10 points in the standings.
New York came out of the gate strong in the opening period, as Frans Nielsen registered the first shot of the match just 21 seconds in. A tough shot from the right circle, Garon managed to grab it with his glove. Minutes after, Matt Moulson looked to pick up from where he left off in a four-goal performance versus Dallas, but his attempt from the point was squeezed by Garon. The Isles were also the first to go off for a penalty, as Nielsen received a two-minute penalty for hooking. The hosts’ defense was strong though, limiting Tampa to no shots.
Despite being held to zero shots on goal for nearly seven minutes, the first shot for the Lightning would strike netting, giving the visitors an early 1-0 advantage. Set up by a great backhand pass by Steven Stamkos to the point, Brett Clark ripped a shot towards the goal, which St. Louis deflected in front, and squeezed through the pads of Al Montoya. Tampa Bay subsequently out-shot New York 6-1 over the ensuing minutes, including the marker. That was until John Tavares tied things up for the Isles with 5:59 remaining in the stanza.
Kyle Okposo originated the play, as he was tied up against the boards. Matt Moulson followed up to stick the puck away, and handed off a pass to Tavares, who wristed a shot past Mathieu Garon for the equalizer. The marker set up a three-goal spurt by the hosts over the final six minutes. With 1:34 left, Tim Wallace, who was brought up from Bridgeport, collected his first NHL point when he played the puck in front, which Matt Martin punched into the short side via a one-timer. Travis Hamonic was also credited with an assist on the goal.
In response to registering his first-ever NHL marker, Wallace stated: “It is definitely a good feeling. The line played well, and we were solid defensively…The goal spurred from a good shift, and wearing the defense down.”
New York wasn’t done there. After Nate Thompson went off for a two-minute boarding call with under a minute remaining, Milan Jurcina made the visitors pay, as he, along with Nielsen, and Mark Streit, connected in the beautiful style that is tic-tac-toe. On a last-second rush, Jurcina one-timed Nielsen’s cross-ice pass with five seconds left to make it 3-1 in favor of the Islanders heading into the intermission. Overall, New York owned an advantage of 14-8 in shots, as well as a 9-5 clip in hits, and a 7-3 margin in takeaways during the period.
During the second period, it was a goaltender show, as Montoya and Garon each combined to make 11 saves between the pipes for their respective teams, and not surrender a goal, leading to the same 3-1 count at the break. Josh Bailey had a pair of quality chances for the Isles, but was robbed on both tries by Garon. He was stopped on a 2-on-1 shorthanded try, and later stalled when Garon hugged the post on a shot in front. For the Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier fired a one-timer from the circle that was squeezed by Montoya.
In the final stanza, New York dominated play from start to finish, holding the opposition to just five shots in the period. P.A. Parenteau looked to seal the deal early on, but his attempt off a great backpass from Moulson was robbed by the glove of Garon. Just over a minute after, David Ullstrom, also a recent AHL call-up, called for the puck, which was played back to him by Bailey during a 2-on-1 odd-man rush. He then slapped a shot into the upper right corner of the net to extend the Isles’ (9-11-5) cushion to 4-1, and put the game away for good.
Ullstrom was asked about his first NHL goal after the game. He replied: “It was certainly a good feeling, and a huge goal for us…This was a good win. We have been playing well for a while, and have to keep it up now.”
Moulson capped the scoring on the evening at the 2:25 mark, when he chipped in a power-play tally off of a Lightning miscue in the defensive zone. For the game, New York owned a 34-24 clip in shots, a 21-12 edge in hits, and a 14-8 margin in takeaways. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay (11-14-2) had a 29-24 advantage in faceoffs. In net, Garon made a game-high 23 saves. Montoya totaled 17 saves, and was selected as the third star.
“We try to do what we do best, and compete as hard as we can,” said Tavares in the post-game. “Anytime you get a victory, it is a great feeling. We had a bad month, but are playing good hockey…Just have to take it one step at a time. We are enjoying it though.”
Head Coach Jack Capuano had similar words during his press conference. “We talked about focusing on the process, and getting down to business. We battled back, and no matter what the score was, the guys were playing hard…Our work ethic needs to continually be at a high.”
Capuano and the Isles return to action on Thursday (Dec. 7) when they face the Chicago Blackhawks for the second time within a week. The puck drops at 7 p.m. In their first meeting on Friday at the United Center in Chicago, the ‘Hawks edged the Islanders in a shootout, 5-4.