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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a late game-winner against the Islanders

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts' 4-2 win over the Islanders on Thursday

by Bryan Burns /

The New York Islanders are a different team this season with John Tavares no longer on the squad and new head coach Barry Trotz behind the bench.

That difference is reflected in the standings too as the Islanders came into AMALIE Arena in first place in the Metropolitan Division and riding a seven-game point streak.

But despite entering Thursday's tilt against Tampa Bay as maybe the hottest team in the NHL, the Islanders couldn't solve what may be the league's best team.

The Lightning spotted New York an early lead, dominated the second period to control of the contest and got a late game-winner from Tyler Johnson to earn a 4-2 victory over the Islanders and win their fourth-consecutive game.

By virtue of their win Thursday and an idle Nashville, Tampa Bay climbed back into first place overall in the NHL standings. And the Lightning still have yet to lose to an Eastern Conference team, going 8-0-0, including a 4-0-0 mark against the Metropolitan Division.

The Islanders provided one of the stiffest challenges yet this season for the Lightning. And once again, the Bolts were able to absorb what their opponent threw at them and counter with greater ferocity.

Here's how they did it against the Isles.

Video: Miller on getting momentum from the penalty kill

Tampa Bay's penalty kill has undergone a major reconstruction from a year ago

Last season, the Lightning ranked 28th in the NHL for penalty kill percentage at 76.1 percent.

So far in 2018-19, the penalty kill has been maybe the brightest spot in a season filled with them. The Bolts have killed 90.2 percent of their opponent's power-play opportunities, good for second best in the league.

In Thursday's win, the penalty kill was the catalyst for the Lightning's late-game heroics.

With the Bolts' up 2-1, the Islanders were awarded a 5-on-3 power play for :48 seconds to start the third period. New York never registered a shot with the two-man advantage, and as the final seconds on the 5-on-4 wound down, Ryan McDonagh slid onto the ice at precisely the right moment to block the Islanders' last scoring chance and kill off the remainder of the power play.

"That's a fresh ice 5-on-3. That's really ideal for the other team," said Lightning forward J.T. Miller, who finished with a goal and an assist for his fourth multi-point game of the season. "We had guys on the ice for almost two minutes right there, sacrificing their body, just throwing themselves around. We had three D-men on the ice at one point for like a minute. I think it was (Dan Girardi) that had to play forward. It's not pretty, but guys are sacrificing their body with guys that can really shoot the puck out there. The bench got a really big lift when that last puck went out of play."

The Lightning penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4 against New York, the 11th time in 16 games this season the special teams unit hasn't allowed a power-play goal.

None of those kills, however, were as important as the one at the beginning of the third period which kept the Lightning in the lead temporarily and provided plenty of inspiration for the rest of the team after witnessing their penalty killers lay it all on the line to keep the puck out of the net.

"That was huge for us," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "They did a tremendous job, and Cally was jumping in front of everything, just eating it. When you see guys sacrifice like that, really just give it their all, I think everyone on the bench was excited about it."

 Video: NYI@TBL: Kucherov, Johnson connect for go-ahead goal

With about five minutes to go in the third period, Brayden Point had a puck cleared off his face in the offensive zone and was slow to get to his feet, eventually skating slowly off the ice while play continued.

Point never returned for the rest of the game - he's okay Cooper said after -- necessitating a bit of line switching in his absence. One of those changes saw Nikita Kucherov replace Point on the second line and join Johnson and Yanni Gourde.

The combination proved to be a winning one.

With less than 90 seconds remaining in regulation and the game tied 2-2, Kucherov fed Johnson on the back post for the game-winning goal.

"I think that's the beauty of our team is a lot of guys can play a lot of different situations with different lines, whatever it may be," said Johnson, who scored his sixth goal of the season and first game-winner. "We just kind of roll. Obviously, it's tough losing Point for that, but when you can throw Kuch out there as well, you just keep trying to play."

On the winning goal, Gourde made the initial play, intercepting a clear attempt before it reached the blue line and immediately headed toward goal. Gourde dished into the slot for Kucherov, who wound his stick up high like he was going to unleash a one-timer.

Instead, he spotted Johnson all alone at the post at the last moment and passed the puck right onto Johnson's stick for him to tap in.
"I've played with Kuch enough I felt like it was coming at me," Johnson said when asked if he thought Kucherov was going to shoot or pass. "He made a heck of a play to go through the guy. Luckily, I was just kind of there. It was perfect."

Video: NYI@TBL: Miller scores to finish pretty passing play 

The first period was a rough one for the Lightning. Not only were they outshot 16-7, but they trailed 1-0 entering the first intermission after Josh Bailey got the puck in the slot, fought off a challenge from Anton Stralman, spun around and shot off the stick of Andrei Vasilevskiy and into the net 3:40 into the game.

But even though the Islanders controlled play in the first, they didn't get as many goals as maybe they should have, mainly because the Lightning scrambled enough to deny them.

"It wasn't like Vasy had to kick everything out," Cooper said. "We contained them, they just had a little bit of zone time."

The Lightning lifted their compete level in the second period and almost immediately tilted the ice in their favor.

A little less than six minutes into the period, Mathieu Joseph took the puck with speed to the top of the left circle and, using an Isles' skater as a screen, beat Robin Lehner with a shot at the near post to tie the game 1-1.

"Shoot the puck, that was the one thing we weren't doing in the first period," Cooper said. "The second period we were, and it helped us. It was a slippery little shot. He pulled it in to his feet and shot it through a defenseman's leg."

About five minutes later, Mikhail Sergachev made a heady, no-look pass toward the right circle for J.T. Miller to one-time home, giving the Lightning their first lead at 2-1.

"The pass he made tonight, not a lot of D can see that and make that play," Cooper said.

New York won the first period Thursday night. Tampa Bay controlled the second. The third period was two teams trying to win a hockey game, according to Cooper.

The Lightning were the ones that found a way to prevail.

Just like they've done 12 times through 16 games this season.

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