Lightning defenseman Emil Martinsen Lilleberg and Islanders left wing Anders...

Lightning defenseman Emil Martinsen Lilleberg and Islanders left wing Anders Lee go down after clearing the puck during the first period of an NHL game Saturday in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

TAMPA, Fla. — A slow start morphed into a gutsy performance . . . but not a good enough one as the Islanders at times struggled with puck management and puck possession.

So the Islanders’ playoff chances took another hit with a 4-1, empty-net-goal-abetted loss to the surging Lightning on Saturday night at Amalie Arena in a game that featured strong goaltending on both ends.

“You take what you can out of every game and try and build,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses right now. This time of the year, there’s no moral victories. They got us tonight.”

The Islanders (31-27-15), in a 2-7-1 skid, could not take advantage of a favorable scoreboard as the Flyers lost in regulation and the Red Wings and Capitals both lost in shootouts.

They are five points behind the Capitals for third place in the Metropolitan Division, five points behind the Flyers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot — albeit with two games in hand and a game in Philadelphia on Monday to conclude this three-game trip — and three points behind the Red Wings, who have played one more game.

“Part of the game is it’s not going to be easy,” Anders Lee said. “It is frustrating, but you’ve got to expect to be frustrated in tight hockey games. That last 40 minutes, we created a lot.”

Semyon Varlamov, starting back-to-back games for the second time this season, made 36 saves, including 19 in a lopsided first period. But Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 22 shots he faced in the last two periods and finished with 27 saves for the Lightning (41-25-7), who are on a 9-1-1 streak.

“Tip to the cap to Vasilevskiy for sure tonight,” Lee said. “We tested him. We put the puck on him and made some great plays in front of him and had some really good looks. We just couldn’t get it by him.”

The Lightning held a 21-6 shot advantage and 37-9 advantage in attempts in the first period, netting two goals within 35 seconds. They took a 2-1 lead on defenseman Darren Raddysh’s power-play goal at 14:25 and Anthony Cirelli’s tally at the crease at 15:00.

The Islanders held a 15-8 shot advantage in the second period, but the Lightning finally opened a two-goal cushion 21 seconds into the third period. Steven Stamkos got his stick up to deflect defenseman Emil Lilleberg’s shot from the left point just inside Varlamov’s right skate. The goal withstood a review for a high stick.

“I thought it was kind of 50-50,” Varlamov said. “I don’t know. Of course we didn’t want to give up that one. I wish it was a high stick and a 2-1 game and then we would have had a better chance to get back in the game.”

“At the end, it doesn’t really matter,” coach Patrick Roy said. “Do I agree with the call? No. But we need to score goals.”

Cirelli clinched it with an empty-netter at 17:14.

Roy switched his lines to start the game even after coming off Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers. He moved Brock Nelson back to center after he skated on Bo Horvat’s left wing the previous 15 games, putting him between Casey Cizikas, the longtime fourth-line center, and Kyle Palmieri.

Horvat was on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s right wing — he said the last time he played wing regularly was his first season of junior hockey — with Pierre Engvall and Mathew Barzal centered Lee and Hudson Fasching.

By the second period, Barzal was in between Cizikas and Fasching, Nelson was centering Engvall and Palmieri and Pageau had Lee and Horvat on his wings.

The defense pairs also switched, with Adam Pelech reunited with Ryan Pulock, Alexander Romanov reunited with Noah Dobson and Mike Reilly back with Bortuzzo.

Palmieri opened the scoring on the Islanders’ first shot, sending the puck toward the crease from the right wall. It deflected in off Lightning defenseman Mathew Dumba at 2:25 of the first period.

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