The Lightning are the NHL’s best team based on the standings, but the Islanders were the better team on the ice Sunday night.
“It was a good test for us,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “They’re a phenomenal team. Look at their lineup. They’ve got guys scoring at will. For us to only give up one goal, that’s a very good sign for our club.”
Three goals in the opening 4:43 and two goals from their fourth line led the Islanders to a 5-1 win over the Lightning at Barclays Center, a strong affirmation that they’ll be able to compete with the NHL’s best throughout the playoff push.
“It’s definitely big and it definitely speaks volumes to our defense, our goalies and our forwards,” said fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, who had a goal and an assist. “It’s definitely a huge win.”
Cizikas’ linemates, Cal Clutterbuck (goal, assist) and Matt Martin (two primary assists) also had a good night. Thomas Greiss made 38 saves. The Isles (25-15-4), who lost to the Rangers, 2-1, on Saturday afternoon, have won 11 of 14.
The Lightning (35-9-2) won Saturday night in Buffalo — Boychuk said the difference between playing at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. the previous day cannot be overestimated — and are 18-2-1 since Nov. 29.
The Islanders, however, have played well against them twice, including a 4-2 loss in Tampa on Nov. 8. The game was not decided until Tyler Johnson scored the game-winner at 18:34 of the third period.
“I think every night we’re confident,” said rookie defenseman Devon Toews, who made it 3-0 at 4:43 of the first period with his third NHL goal. “We’re confident in our abilities and our structure, and the way we play the game is going to give us a chance every night.”
The Islanders held the Lightning’s league-leading power play, which came into the game 46-for-151 (30.5 percent), without a goal on seven shots in three opportunities with the man advantage.
Right wing Nikita Kucherov, who is leading the NHL with 53 assists, 75 points and 27 power-play points, was held without a point on two shots.
The Lightning lost Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman on the first shift of the second period when he collided with one of the referees and appeared to suffer a facial injury.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper first pulled Andrei Vasilevskiy (23 saves) for an extra skater at 10:14 of the third, and Islanders coach Barry Trotz said it was the earliest he’d ever seen a goalie pulled for an extra skater. Josh Bailey scored an empty-netter with 51.2 seconds left.
The Islanders’ first-period barrage marked the fifth time in team history, and the first time since 2005, that they had scored three goals in the opening 4:43.
Brock Nelson opened the scoring on the power play at 1:21 after the Islanders were 0-for-6 with the man advantage on Saturday. Clutterbuck, at the crease, made it 2-0 at 4:27 after Cizikas created a turnover deep in the Lightning zone.
Martin set up Cizikas at the crease to make it 4-0 at 11:03 of the second period.
Greiss made 21 second-period saves, including power-play stops on Brayden Point’s one-timer at 14:26 and Steven Stamkos’ hard shot from the left boards at 15:19. Ryan McDonagh made it 4-1 at 18:12 of the second period on the Lightning’s 22nd shot of the period.
Trotz was asked if he believes in statement games in the course of the regular season. “There are certain games or certain times you get an opponent that cements what you’re trying to do as a team,’’ he said. “It sort of galvanizes you or it gives you a more solid foundation.”
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