In many ways, this game was similar to the earlier contest played between the teams in New York back on November 1. In both, the Islanders were able to grab a 2-1 lead in the second period. The Lightning pressed hard in the third but were unable to tie it. Then the Islanders converted an insurance goal after benefitting from a fortunate bounce. They would add a couple of more goals in the closing minutes.
But the games weren't identical. This one turned on a couple of key sequences. In the second period, moments after Cory Conacher couldn't convert on a breakaway, the Islanders scored off the rush. Ross Johnston finished a perfect shot from the right circle. A few minutes later during a Tampa Bay power play, the Lightning had a four-on-two. But they fumbled the puck and allowed a counter breakaway shorthanded goal to Josh Bailey.
So the Islanders were more opportunistic than the Lightning in building a 2-0 lead. But the Lightning pushed back and controlled play for the rest of the period. Steven Stamkos' goal at 15:35 of the second pulled the Lightning to within a goal. And the Bolts carried that momentum into the third. They dominated puck possession during the early minutes of the period and generated several excellent chances. But they couldn't find the tying goal. Then, the Isles took advantage off a bad break in the Lightning d-zone. A puck deflected from behind the net to the slot, where Brock Nelson was standing. He put in his own rebound to extend the New York lead. Shortly thereafter, the Lightning thought they had scored their second goal, but Victor Hedman's tally was erased due to a successful New York challenge for offside. Nelson and Anders Lee scored two late goals to set the final at 5-1.
The Lightning played very hard in this game (This includes the line of Mitchell Stephens, who was making his NHL debut, Conacher, and Carter Verhaeghe. They were relentless in pursing pucks and winning puck battles). The Bolts recorded 71 shot attempts. They hit a handful of posts. But also, the Islanders, as they have done throughout the season, defended very well in their own end. The Lightning didn't get many rebound shots because the Isles boxed out effectively in front of their net. And goalie Semyon Varlamov was solid in net, providing his teammates with key saves when they needed them. His best one was a sprawling glove stop on Pat Maroon at the side of the net early in the third period.
In the end, it was a game closer than the final score might indicate. One in which the Lightning, with a little more puck luck, may have deserved a better fate. But they can't dwell on the result - instead, they need to get ready for a key divisional contest on Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1. Brock Nelson - Islanders. Two goals.
2. Josh Bailey - Islanders. Game-winning SHG.
3. Semyon Varlamov - Islanders. 31 saves.