Recipe for a road win: Play it tight enough to keep it close. Score timely goals to squeeze out a lead. Get timely saves to keep that lead. Kill your penalties -- a lot of them, as the refs went wild -- grab a shorty for good measure, ice it with an empty-netter as reward for your effort.
That was the recipe carried out from a range of guys from Al Montoya, Josh Bailey and Matt Martin to usual suspects Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and Andrew MacDonald. An absurd number of minors called against the Islanders in the third period -- eight...eight! (two in one double-minor) -- made this one a tough victory to protect, but once handed a bit of luck, the Islanders weren't about to let a penalty or eight get in the way of a victory cigar.
Despite giving up two goals to make it 3-1, the Lightning started to control play more in the second and forced the Isles into general sloppiness early in the third. But with that margin of a lead thanks to Matt Martin's pretty conversion of another Jack Hillen rush plus Kyle Okposo's tricky tip of a Milan Jurcina shot, the odds favored the Isles. Further, despite getting shots the Lightning didn't look quite like an organized attack.
Even after the penalty pile-on, the odds favored the Isles because Nielsen and Grabner were just a force. Nielsen played 5:47 on the PK in the third period alone, and Grabner did 4:11. Insane. It felt like they never left the ice.
Curious Night for the Refs
The Isles certainly deserved some of their penalties, but the disparity of calls in the third started to get comical. It really took on the look of a classic "ref by feel" situation, where the home team and playoff-chasing Lightning got the benefit of the doubt as soft call after soft call stacked up. It got crazy after the third call of the period was a double-minor on Radek Martinek for high-sticking -- he gave Blair Jones a shot to the chin with his left hand that drew blood. That made it a 5-on-3 for the Lightning, and Frans and the gang killed that part off but conceded a goal before Maritnek's first minor expired.
Soon after, John Tavares was whistled for an unbelievable high-stick. Still on that powerplay, Travis Hamonic gets a cross-check for pushing Martin St. Louis down from behind, but Sean Bergenheim challenges him and gets the even up call that struck me as the officials not wanting to deliver another 5-on-3 and pile on too much ... at least not yet. On that kill, Nielsen and Grabner had a 2-on-0 on the PK after victimizing Victor Hedman, and Hedman's sweeping slash to Grabner's leg went uncalled. (Dwayne Roloson made the save on the scoring chance.) Then Jack Hillen when gets hooked by Vincent Lecavalier, it becomes coincidental minors as Hillen gets called for holding the stick.
I shouldn't question the refs' competence, but it all just smacked of an orchestration based on "feel" rather than what was actually happening (this includes the evener on Bergenheim, by the way). The Isles were on their heels, but that penalty disparity was beyond a fair reflection of the game flow, otherwise Hedman's slash for one would have been called, and Steven Stamkos would have been called for a Hillen-style "holding the stick" when he drew a hooking call on Milan Jurcina. Like I said: The benefit of the doubt went one way.
As if to add to the quota charade, the Islanders got a powerplay when Matt Martin was pulled down on a scoring chance with 9 seconds left in the game. (Sorry, but since it's a win, I'll take the moment to marvel at the officiating without being a "sore loser.")
Notes from the Calder Winner's House
- The third period was simply a Nielsen and Grabner show, with assists from Montoya, MacDonald, Hamonic and Jurcina shutting the door. Those guys killed penalties, created shorthanded chances (and scored), and frustrated the Lightning, who frequently used at least one forward on the point.
- Grabner's 31st goal was an empty-netter, another shorthanded goal to go with Frans Nielsen's earlier in the period, but it was well earned considering the rest of his night's work. He'd have had a shorthanded breakaway in the first period, too, but Martin St. Louis hauled him down after coughing the puck up at the point.
- Any goalie who makes 36 saves in 60 minutes needs his share of luck, but Montoya played well throughout, staying square and picking up the puck through multiple scrambles and screen shots. He made 17 saves in the third period alone, many of them the hard kind when the Islanders were down a man or two.
- The only goal not mentioned so far was Josh Bailey's, a powerplay goal in the first after he and Blake Comeau completed an expiring 4-on-4 situation. Bailey had a very nice period, was creating possibilities throughout that shift, and was rewarded with good positioning around the goal to put in the rebound of Jurcina's shot.
- Nielsen's "breakaway" goal was hilarious, because he earned it the old-fashioned way -- outanticipating St. Louis at the point -- but the puck bobbled like a Mexican jumping bean and Nielsen had to slam on the brakes half-way into the faceoff circle to Roloson's right. So he calmly settled it and slapshot shortside past Roloson for his 6th shorty of the year, his 11th overall.
- This is faint praise, but I think the Bruno Gervais - Radek Martinek pairing works better than Gervais with Milan Jurcina. Hillen, for his part has been a puck-rushing machine no matter which Czech or Slovak he's been paired with lately.
Standings: The Islanders have 70 points, two behind both New Jersey (one game in hand) and Atlanta (two games in hand). Should be an interesting final few weeks. Florida (one game in hand) is two points behind the Isles. For the Lightning, this loss keeps them three points out of home-ice advantage, with Montreal still just two points behind them after losing to Buffalo tonight.
FIG Winner: Cheers to andrew430, with his first win of the year. No one had Jurcina with the assist, so andrew's pick wins on the time tiebreaker. The seasonlong standings with all our winners are posted in this comment by ICanSeeForIslesAndIsles (8:44 p.m. EDT timestamp).