Given a little more room to maneuver on the ice than they had against the Devils on Saturday, the Islanders took full advantage of what the Lightning offered Monday, breaking out to a four-goal lead early in the third period.
They didn't handle such comfort well, though, and had to hang on for a 4-3 win, their first in the shortened season.
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"When you're up 4-0 and still getting chances, you've got to put the game away, not make it interesting like we did," said Michael Grabner, who opened the scoring with a nifty breakaway goal on a power play 6:50 into the second. "But it's good to get the first one out of the way."
The Islanders mustered only 19 shots against the Devils' stifling system. The Lightning, with its array of talent and penchant for opening up play, presented a much different challenge, and the Isles met it for 42 minutes and change. They finished with 44 shots on goal.
Grabner received a perfect pass from Mark Streit, fought off defenseman Eric Brewer and tucked the puck behind Anders Lindback to open the scoring. In a 72-second span late in the second, the Isles increased their lead to 3-0, helped by a pair of primary assists by John Tavares, his first points of the year.
With the aid of a broken stick, Tavares worked the puck away from Martin St. Louis and perfectly timed a dump out of his zone, landing the puck on Matt Martin's stick as he exited the penalty box. Martin snapped a breakaway shot behind Lindback to make it 2-0 at 16:23. Just 1:12 later, Kyle Okposo finished a two-on-one with Tavares, beating Lindback between the pads.
"I like the way we didn't get frustrated in the first when we had some chances to get on the board," Frans Nielsen said. "We kept working, kept skating and we pretty much didn't give them anything for two periods."
That extended into the third, when David Ullstrom and Keith Aucoin, again two of the hardest-working Islanders, combined on a give-and-go that Ullstrom roofed over Lindback for a 4-0 lead at 1:31.
But then came the "lull," as Tavares put it -- three Lightning goals in a 5:38 span, two from Tampa Bay's top line matched against Tavares' line. The last one, Steven Stamkos' first of the season from Evgeni Nabokov's doorstep at 8:00, came off a series of individual battles won by the Lightning, forcing Jack Capuano to call timeout.
"It wasn't anything structural, it was just battle level," said Capuano, who returned to the bench after missing Saturday's game because of emergency surgery to remove kidney stones. "I also thought we looked a little tired there."
Nabokov made the biggest of his 23 saves just after the timeout, stopping Nate Thompson from point-blank range with 11:20 to go. Thompson took a penalty with 2:28 left, preventing Nielsen's breakaway; on the ensuing power play, Matt Moulson was hauled down by Brian Lee with 1:47 left. That negated any chance Tampa Bay had to press for a tying goal.
"We didn't shut the door when we had a chance to," Tavares said, "but I liked the way we responded after we had a few minutes when we were off our game."