Tampa Bay took the lead for good with 1:26 remaining
On Thursday night at Amalie Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Islanders 4-2 on a goal in the final minutes by Tyler Johnson. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 35 saves in the victory, and the Lightning rebounded from a slow start in the win.
New York has been one of the pleasant surprises of the first month of NHL action. After parting ways with all-everything center John Tavares, Islanders fans predicted doom. The team had been undergoing a rough stretch already, and Tavares’ departure made the cupboard seem bare. Yet in their first fourteen games the Isles were anything but gloomy. On Thursday night they came into Amalie Arena as the leaders in the Metropolitan Division, a group of teams that includes the perennial contender Pittsburgh Penguins and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.
The Islanders came out strong, getting the better of the action early in the first period. Some sloppy passing by the Lightning, along with some aggressive and physical play from the Islanders, allowed them the bulk of control. That possession and pressure resulted in a goal just 3:40 into the game, a Josh Bailey tally after he had time to wait out Andrei Vasilevskiy and find a vulnerable spot.
The Lightning were sloppy and scattered throughout the first period. The Islanders took the action to them, and that led to some very un-Lightning-like hockey as the team’s speed advantage vanished and it seemed like the Islanders were able to do whatever they wanted to gain offensive chances.
The thing about having a world-class goaltender is that even on a night where a team starts as though they woke up on the wrong collective side of the bed, the man between the pipes can keep them in a game. Andrei Vasilevskiy did just that in the first, stopping fifteen shots from New York in the twenty minutes. This paid off, as it often will, when one of the Lightning’s skilled skaters found the net. This time it was Mathieu Joseph, sneaking a puck around a defender and past netminder Robin Lehner to even the score. Lighting the lamp filled the Lightning with energy, and suddenly the entire feel of the game was different, with the Lightning on the attack and the Islanders suddenly struggling to get prolonged possession in the offensive zone. A few minutes later, the Lightning’s continued pressure led to taking the lead on a J.T. Miller goal, care of a textbook pass from Mikhail Sergachev.
New York would knot the score again in the third. Josh Bailey got his second goal of the night when a pass found him through multiple Lightning players in just about the same spot he scored his first goal. The score remained tied until the final two minutes, with Nikita Kucherov finding Tyler Johnson for an easy goal to give the Lightning the 3-2 lead. They tacked on an empty net goal by Steven Stamkos in the closing seconds.
Military Appreciation Night in Tampa
It was Military Appreciation Night at Amalie Arena on Thursday night, with pregame ceremonies to honor veterans and active military alike. Tampa is of course a military town, with MacDill Air Force Base creating a large presence in the city, and as a sports market it has long demonstrated a penchant for paying tribute to America’s men and women in uniform. Thursday night was exceptional even by those standards. The Lightning warmed up in special camouflage sweaters, which were auctioned off during the game. Requests for applause for service members in attendance were met with roars.
The National Anthem at Amalie Arena is an electrifying experience on a normal night, with Sonya Bryson’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner typically getting the crowd energized for games. On Thursday night, Bryson was joined by a World War II veteran just shy of his 100th birthday. Simply announcing his age drew a roar from the crowd, and the crowd cheered at the end of the anthem as though the member of the Greatest Generation had fed Bryson a juicy assist in front of an open net.
Penalty Kill Watch
The Lightning continued their early season success down a man on Thursday night, especially in the third period. Holding a one goal lead coming into the frame, the Lightning started the final period facing a 5-on-3 advantage for the Islanders for 48 seconds, with both Dan Girardi and Cedric Paquette sharing the penalty box. They killed off both penalties, giving themselves some momentum. In all, Tampa Bay erased all five penalties they accrued in the game, maintaining a penalty kill that has proven one of the NHL’s absolute best.
Perhaps, contrary to what people thought coming into the season, it’s the power play that is a point of concern for the Lightning rather than the penalty kill. In four power play opportunities Thursday night, the Bolts struggled and rarely threatened.
Up Next For Bolts:
Tampa Bay remains at home for a Saturday night matchup with the Ottawa Senators, less than a week after their first meeting of the season in Ottawa. That game was largely controlled by the Senators, but a great late effort from Ryan McDonagh sent the game into overtime, where the Lightning earned the extra point to complete a sweep of games in Canada on back-to-back nights.