TAMPA, Fla. --The Islanders took a one-goal lead into the third period for the fourth time in five games last night.
For the first time, they didn't relinquish that lead. That's progress, especially against a Lightning team with Steven Stamkos, the NHL's leading goal-scorer, and Martin St. Louis, the league's runner-up in assists.
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The Islanders had some hairy moments in the closing minute but staved off Stamkos, St. Louis and the Lightning, 2-0. Evgeni Nabokov made 18 saves for his second shutout of the season, but it was the work of the skaters in front of him, particularly the defense pair of Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald, that clinched the win.
"That's the closest to a full-60 [minute] game we've played in a long time, maybe this year," said Hamonic, who led the Isles with 24:04 of ice time. "With the exception of a couple shifts, we kept coming at them in the third. That was important."
The Isles are 4-1-2 in their last seven games, holding 10th place alone on the crowded Eastern Conference playoff bubble, three points out of eighth.
Even with some recent blown leads in the third period, the Islanders steadied themselves to beat both the Canadiens and Capitals after allowing the tying goal.
But last night they appeared determined to make John Tavares' power-play goal midway through the second stand up, especially with Stamkos and St. Louis prowling nearly every other shift.
"You know they're going to get their chances," Nabokov said, "but it's a matter of where they get them, how much time they're going to get. I think we did a good job of putting pressure on their big guys, not giving them too much time."
The Islanders' efforts were almost for naught after Stamkos beat Tavares on a faceoff in the Isles' zone in the final minute and a mad scramble ensued, with three Isles throwing themselves in the slot to keep Stamkos from getting a clear shot.
MacDonald banked a high clear off the glass that landed right at Brad Boyes' skates, and he iced the game with an empty-net goal with 39.4 seconds to go.
The Islanders played two sturdy periods to open the game, outshooting the Lightning 22-12 through 40 minutes by trying to be simple and throw pucks on Anders Lindback. Once they got a power play at 9:55 of the second, they went to work quickly.
Boyes tipped Mark Streit's point shot and Matt Moulson, parked in front of Lindback, made a nifty play to twirl a pass to Tavares instead of flinging a blind shot. Tavares was right at the side of the net to jam a backhand home for his 17th goal of the season and eighth power-play goal, tying him for the NHL lead.
The Isles had a key penalty kill in the latter half of the third as well. MacDonald's best play of the game was tying up Ryan Malone's stick with a sitting rebound in the slot with eight minutes left.
"We got the power-play goal, the PK was great," Tavares said. "There's been times we've had the lead in the third and we haven't always done the best job holding it. But we're confident with those situations."