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Islanders stun Lightning with three late goals in 3-1 win

The New York Islanders celebrates after defeating the

The New York Islanders celebrates after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Say this for the Islanders: They believe.

After 42 shots on goal in just under 57 minutes of game time Saturday night, they hadn't scored and trailed by a goal against a 20-year-old Russian goaltender playing his second NHL game. But the Islanders believed.

"We've still got a long way to go in this season," Travis Hamonic said, "but I think we just kind of expect it from ourselves. If we keep with it, if we're doing the right things, it's going to pay off at some point."

The payoffs came in quick succession -- three goals in a span of 1:58 -- in what became a 3-1 win over the Lightning.

John Tavares finished off a textbook corner cycle, a give-and-go play with Kyle Okposo that tied the score with 3:09 left in the third period and finally dented young Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Tampa Bay net.

On the next shift, Anders Lee neatly redirected Hamonic's toss from the boards into the top corner of the net just 12 seconds later, sending the 16,170 at the Coliseum into a frenzy.

Nikolay Kulemin's empty-net goal at 18:49 clinched it as the Isles turned a possible hey-we-battled loss into a victory.

Just that quickly, the Islanders converted a teeth-gritting loss into two points against the top team in the Atlantic Division -- barely 24 hours after rallying from a goal down in Detroit to beat the Red Wings, another Atlantic Division high flyer.

"We talk about believability and trust, and we're going to keep talking about those words," Isles coach Jack Capuano said. "We had that belief we were going to get one. Then we were fortunate to get a couple more."

The only story for the first 56:51 was Vasilevskiy, the Lightning's 2012 first-round pick, who was called up and sent into action with Ben Bishop sidelined.

With both teams having played the night before but only one of them looking worse for the wear, the Islanders took a 29-9 shot advantage after two periods, but Tampa Bay's kid goaltender kept his team in it.

And it seemed as though Vasilevskiy was on his way to stealing one for his team when Brett Connolly directed Tyler Johnson's off-wing shot past Jaroslav Halak at 9:16 of the third to snap the scoreless tie.

The Islanders sagged for a shift or two after that goal but revved it back up, led by their captain. Tavares had some flustered moments through the majority of the game, as he's had at times this season. But there was no mistaking No. 91 on the tying goal as he circled around Mark Barberio to deliver the puck to Okposo and then circled back into the slot, losing his man and gaining the puck in the process.

His low shot beat Vasilevskiy -- and Tavares, with his first goal in four games, looked heavenward.

"Three minutes left, down one, that's when your leaders step up," Hamonic said. "He scores big goals."

Tavares didn't make it to the end of the night, taking a puck off his ear and needing stitches as the final horn sounded. Capuano said Tavares is fine.

The team is fine, too. After dropping the Lightning to 20-11-4, the Isles (23-10-0) are a season-high 13 games over .500. They have won 13th of 16 home games, equaling their season total for home wins in 2013-14.

"We're finding out how you have to play to be successful in this league," Okposo said. "There's a lot of good players and good teams you face night after night. We've got a pretty good squad in here too."

New York Sports