With eight losses in their last nine games and their playoff hopes growing dimmer by the day, the Islanders mustered up a full team effort on Saturday, getting two goals from Richard Park and a 38-save effort by seldom-used Martin Biron to fend off the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-4.
Park, who's had a couple of apparent goals waved off recently, got one that originally wasn't going to be allowed when his bad-angled rebound shot tucked just inside the far corner to the left of Antero Niittymaki with 2:22 remaining, breaking a 4-4 tie. The goal wasn't called on the ice by referees Kerry Fraser and Francois St. Laurent, but was allowed after a lengthy video review.
"I thought it was in, but you just never know," said Park, whose goal late in the second period that put the Isles ahead 4-3 was his first in 11 games. "It happened so fast."
The Isles trailed 2-1 and 3-2, then saw a 4-3 lead disappear on Steve Downie's goal early in the third period. But that was the only one of Tampa Bay's 19 third-period shots to beat Biron, and Park's goal gave New York only its second win in 10 games. Instead of being nine points out of the last playoff spot, they moved six points behind eighth-place Montreal. Tampa Bay is ninth, a point behind the Canadiens.
"I thought we really stuck with it," Park said. "Our penalty-killers did a great job, and we capitalized on some opportunities."
Biron, the subject of frequent trade rumors, started for the second time in three games after not playing an NHL game since Dec. 27. He outplayed Niittymaki, who has allowed nine goals in consecutive losses by the Bolts to Boston and the Islanders that came after a four-game winning streak.
"We had a lot of chances. There were some blown coverages." Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "I'm sure Niitty wishes he had a couple back -- he's been so good."
In the battle between the last two No. 1 overall draft picks, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (2008) got the better of Isles' rookie John Tavares. Stamkos scored Tampa Bay's first goal and set up the second, giving him 34 goals and 68 points, both team highs, in his second NHL season.
Tavares, picked No. 1 in the 2009 Entry Draft, did have an assist, his first point in eight games, but hasn't scored a goal in 13.
Stamkos said this was a loss the Lightning really couldn't afford -- they began the day tied with eighth-place Boston at 65 points in the race for the last playoff spot in the East.
"We can't afford to be having games like this," Stamkos said. "The team has been winning lately -- we've shown bursts of good hockey, the type of hockey we need to be in the playoffs. But we need to be a little more consistent. We have to find a way to play better down the stretch."
The Islanders got into immediate penalty trouble when Mark Streit was called for interference at 44 seconds and Sean Bergenheim was sent off for tripping 41 seconds later. The Lightning had one excellent chance during the long 5-on-3 power-play, but Biron stopped Downie at the left post.
For a team that entered the day 29th on the penalty kill, escaping unscathed was a big confidence boost.
"It gave myself confidence, it gave the guys confidence," Biron said. "We killed a lot of penalties tonight against a team with a great power play."
The Islanders did nothing on their first power play after Nate Thompson went off for cross-checking at 4:39, but went ahead less than a minute after the advantage expired. Following some good forechecking, Rob Schremp controlled the puck in the left corner and slid a pass to Blake Comeau, who came across the crease, got Niittymaki to drop and flipped the puck over him at 7:31 for his seventh goal of the season
Tampa Bay tied it at 11:14 on a pretty passing play. Stamkos won the draw back to Kurtis Foster at the right point. Foster fed a diagonal pass to Martin St. Louis, whose quick feed found Stamkos all alone to tap in his 34th of the season.
Another faceoff win by Stamkos led helped Tampa take the lead at 14:21. He won the draw back to Mike Lundin at the right point. The young defenseman moved to the top of the right circle and zipped a wrist shot that appeared to hit a defender and sailed past Biron for his second goal of the season.
After being outshot 14-9 in the opening period, the Isles came out strong in the second period, taking the first five shots and tying the game on the fifth when Kyle Okposo picked off a clearing attempt at the right point, moved down the wall and found Doug Weight in the slot for a wrister that beat Niittymaki cleanly at 4:26. It was the first goal since last April 12 for the Isles' captain.
Biron preserved the tie two minutes later when he stopped Brandon Bochenski on a breakaway, and again midway through the period when he stopped Bochenski's stuff try at the left post.
Thompson, an ex-Islander acquired on waivers last month, put Tampa Bay back in front at 13:27, starting the play by stripping Tavares along the right-wing boards and finishing it by banging in Alex Tanguay's passout. But Tavares helped the Islanders get even again by carrying down the left side past Victor Hedman -- picked immediately behind him in last June's draft -- and going behind the net before feeding a passout that Okposo one-timed past Niittymaki at 16:12.
The Isles went in front exactly a minute later when Niittymaki stopped but couldn't control Comeau's shot from inside the left circle. The puck dropped into the crease, where Park banged it in.
The Lightning trailed 4-3 after two periods, but tied the game at 2:57 of the third when Downie set up in front of Biron's crease and easily tapped in Mattias Ohlund's pass from the left circle. Tampa Bay controlled the play for the rest of the period, outshooting New York 19-7, but couldn't beat Biron again.
Despite a stretch of eight losses in nine games, the Isles have a chance to hit the Olympic break with some momentum -- three wins in four games -- by beating Ottawa at home on Sunday.
"If we could get another two (points) tomorrow, that would be really big for us," Tavares said. "It would put us in great position. Today is huge against a team we're trying to beat and fighting with. We're hanging in there, and we believe."
1 - 0 NYI
Martin St. Louis
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 TBL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 TBL
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 NYI
Martin St. Louis
4 - 4 Tie
5 - 4 NYI