TAMPA, Fla. — For the second Saturday in a row, the Islanders went on the road to face one of the top two teams in the league and came away with a win.
If there’s a statement to be made after their 5-3 win over the league-leading Lightning, it’s this: 19 games in, the Islanders can beat anyone.
“It could be a game that takes your team to new levels, as long as you learn from it, grow with confidence from it,” coach Doug Weight said after his team’s third straight win. “I think every game is a test, really. But we go into St. Louis, where they were on a 9-0-1 run [and win 5-2], then we come here with a team that’s real ly ripping through the league and we play a really solid game.”
It was a truly stellar performance by the Islanders, at least for the first 42 minutes. Anders Lee’s second goal of the night from his office, right in front of the opposing net, on the power play gave the Isles a 4-0 lead at 1:05 of the third period.
Tampa Bay had its chances and looked at times every bit the team that had started this season 15-2-2, but the Islanders were a step ahead for most of the first two periods. They stepped into passing lanes and made the Lightning turn and retrieve and defend rather than get moving up the ice with their amazing speed and skill.
“We certainly knew that any mistake you make and they’ve got two guys behind you, so we were aggressive,” said Andrew Ladd, who whipped John Tavares’ pass behind Andrei Vasilevskiy 51 seconds in to get things going.
With Cal Clutterbuck sidelined by a stomach bug, Weight shuffled his forward lines to spread out some of his more positionally responsible players. Ladd, Casey Cizikas and Josh Ho-Sang got a lot of time against the Vlad Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov line and that trio, which entered the game with 88 points, was shut out for only the second time this season.
“It’s a challenge to face a line going that well,” Ladd said. “All five guys on the ice with them have to be aware of what they’re doing, trying to sneak into open space. We did well. We got the big saves when we needed them, too.”
Thomas Greiss made 36 saves, but Tampa Bay struck twice on a couple of breakdowns in a 13-second span to cut the Isles’ lead to 4-2 at 3:26 of the third. Weight called timeout and forcefully explained to his players what they needed to be doing.
“He was just telling us what we needed to hear,” said Josh Bailey, who had his third three-assist game of the season. “Everybody was calm. He was just trying to get his point across.”
“We’ve had a hell of a game, we’ve done good things, now we just need to settle down,” Weight recalled of what he said, noting that assistant coach Kelly Buchberger convinced him to call the timeout. “Don’t get flat-footed, don’t start slapping at pucks. And we had three, four shifts after that to help us get back on track.”
Yanni Gourde scored with 3:36 to go to make it even a tighter squeeze, but the Islanders were strong once the Lightning pulled its goaltender. Bailey picked off Stamkos’ pass and Cizikas fed Tavares for the clinching empty-netter, part of a three-point night for the captain.
With a 5 p.m. start in Raleigh coming Sunday, there was little time to savor this one. But the Isles have beaten the Lightning and Blues on the road in the last seven days, and that is worth something.
“We just know what type of game we need to play to beat these teams,” Lee said. “When we struggle, we know why we’re struggling and what we need to do to fix it. There’s a different feeling in the room between periods in these games.”