The New York Islanders were called out by their coach -- by names, this time -- in the morning, and they answered the bell in the evening with one of their best full-game efforts in a long while.
Their 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning added to their gaudy home record in their first season at Barclays Center. But this home win wasn't a squeaked-through narrow win over a division basement-dweller. Instead, it came against a team that could have pulled back into a tie for first in the Atlantic, a team that had trounced them 10 days ago in Tampa.
It also helps the psyche that they bounced right back from a humbling home defeat to the Penguins on Saturday, though this win also very slightly increased their outside chances of running into the surging Penguins in the first round.
Scoring chances and shot attempts were close to even throughout the night, so the difference could very well be chalked up to the stark difference in goaltending of Thomas Greiss, who had one softie, and Ben Bishop, who had three. But the Islanders were energetic and thorough in all three periods, which was much better than they've been, particularly against better opponents.
First Period: The Ice Has Not Improved
The game began with a trademark great forecheck shift by the fourth line, a trio that would factor throughout the game. But the Islanders nearly gave that away once the pressure let up, with Marek Zidlicky taking a three-for-the-price-of-one hooking penalty. Thomas Greiss needed a great stretching toe save on a rebound to keep that penalty from costing them.
Shortly after a gutsy Calvin de Haan shot block off the side of his knee -- one that would come back to haunt them -- the Islanders rushed up ice and had a great combo play between John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Ryan Pulock, who started the play and scored the goal off his leg after he rushed to the top of the crease.
The period also featured two altercations, an aborted tussle between Nikita Nesterov and Kyle Okposo that drew only coincidental roughing minors, and a Ryan Pulock battle with Cedric Paquette that drew five-minute fighting majors for each. In both instances the Islanders player fell first to shorten the altercation; in Pulock's case he was coming to the defense of Thomas Hickey, who'd received a bit hit.
Before his fight Pulock also rang a blast off both posts to make for an eventful first period back in the lineup.
But perhaps most noticeable about the period was how much the puck bounced -- in open ice, along the boards, through simple wobbling passes. A great lob pass should have sent Anders Lee on a no-doubter two-on-zero over the LIghtning blueline, but the puck bounced so much on the sandlot ice that it was all he could do to settle it with his glove and get a simple shot off.
It will be interesting to see how this issue develops, as the matter of the Barclays Center ice certainly appears to have gotten worse as the season has changed.
Second Period: Price of Admission Earned
But de Haan would leave the game for work on his knee, and his lone shift after the first intermission led to the tying goal. A clearly hobbled de Haan was slow to make the long change, freeing the Lightning for a two-on-one after a quick change of their own. Nikita Kucherov gained the zone and fed Alex Killorn, who made a great deke around Thomas Greiss to tie it at 1-1.
Midway through the second period the fourth line gained the lead back with a breakout from a defensive zone faceoff. Casey Cizikas won the faceoff, Cal Clutterbuck pounced on the loose puck to send Matt Martin down the left wing, and Martin simply burned Matt Carle to the outside. However, Martin might not have scored if Ben Bishop hadn't played him so deep in his crease, the first of several shaky moments from the big Lightning goalie.
A magical "turning point" moment came when the Lightning very nearly tied it at 2-2 but for a Nikolay Kulemin backcheck that canceled a Lightning odd-man rush. Not only did Kulemin help prevent a goal, he started one by alertly turning and firing down the ice to feed Brock Nelson over the Lightning blueline. Nelson was magnificent in not only staying onside -- there wasn't even a coach's challenge -- but also fighting off hacks and pressure to calmly lift his backhand upstairs over Bishop's shoulder, Nielsen-style.
J.T. Brown took a high-sticking penalty on Clutterbuck 30 seconds later -- another costly one, as Clutterbuck torqued his knee as he slid into the boards -- and the Bishop floodgate opened on the first Isles rush that followed. Frans Nielsen gained the line with speed from a nice Okposo outlet and quickly fed Tavares on left wing. Tavares wasted no time in winding up for a slapshot, which caught Bishop completely off guard and poorly positioned, enabling Tavares' 30th goal of the season.
Clutterbuck came back into the game, but the contortion was of the sort where you wonder what shape he'll be in after traveling to D.C. for Tuesday night's game.
The fourth line could have notched another when Cizikas blocked a shot and went off to the races, but Carle held his stick long enough to keep him from creating too much separation on his breakaway. He still got a shot off, but no penalty was called.
Nelson's goal made it 4-1 and it looked like the Isles had all but sealed a win, especially given Bishop's form. But a late Nick Leddy icing was followed by a poor shift in their own zone, capped by Victor Hedman's outside, low-angle shot beating Greiss short side with seven seconds left in the second period.
Third Period: Everything Feels Like A Turning Point
Bishop stayed in the net -- for now -- and he had a chance to backstop a Lightning resurgence. When the Bolts got an early power play opportunity to try to cut the deficit to one goal, all the ingredients were there. Instead, the Isles penalty kill and Greiss combined to evade the threat, and the Isles scored the other way after Lee came out of the box.
First Lee created a breakaway for himself that Bishop stopped. But Hedman and the Lightning power play remnants were gassed, and sloppy in retrieving the puck from the corner afterward. Tavares pounced to gain it in the corner and fed Johnny Boychuk, whose blast from the past eluded BIshop for the fifth goal
What could have been 4-3 was instead 5-2 in a flash.
The rest of the game was about avoiding disaster and injury as the Isles began a stretch of five games in seven days.
The Rangers also won to stay two points ahead for third place in the Metro Division, so this win chiefly served to keep pace there while also building a four-point lead over the Flyers with four games remaining for each. While the Isles finish with five games in their final seven days beginning tonight, the Flyers' final four games come in the space of five nights.
Quote of the Night
Talk about using your speed...crazy speed, Matt Martin, I didn't know he could go that fast!
--Butch Goring, after Martin sped around Matt Carle to score
Tomorrow, D.C. Have to guess de Haan won't be available for that one, which would mean Pulock definitely stays in but is joined by another.