TAMPA, Fla. — The Islanders kept defending and Semyon Varlamov kept making saves, both at even strength and on the penalty kill. It finally led to a lopsided win.
“I’ve got to give credit to the team,” Varlamov said. “I always do. But this team, especially, the way we protect the net and battle in our defensive zone. It’s just fun to watch.”
Sure, the Lightning hit three posts and had some wacky bounces go against them. But that did not detract from the full effort of the Islanders’ 5-1 win on Monday night at Amalie Arena.
Brock Nelson scored twice in a three-goal third period for the Islanders (20-7-2) and the penalty kill shut down the Lightning’s second-ranked power play on all three chances and got a shorthanded goal from Josh Bailey. Anders Lee capped the victory with his first power-play goal of the season.
The Islanders’ three-game road trip started with a 3-1 loss at Dallas on Saturday night, largely because the Stars went 2-for-2 on the power play.
“Special teams, a shorthanded goal, a power-play goal, all those elements in your game that you need,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “At the end, we had that killer instinct.”
Backup Curtis McElhinney, who won the last two games of the Hurricanes’ second-round playoff sweep over the Islanders last spring after Petr Mrazek was injured, stopped 19 shots for the Lightning (14-11-3).
Nelson, from the high slot, scored his second goal of the game at 14:41 of the third period to make it 4-1 and Lee pushed it to 5-1 at 16:05.
Varlamov stopped all four power-play shots he faced.
“Guys like [Nikita] Kucherov, [Brayden] Point, [Steven] Stamkos, they’re probably the best in the league,” Varlamov said. “They don’t joke around. You really have to make sure you stay sharp on the penalty kill, and I think we did today.”
Still, there were two crucial turning points that had to go the Islanders’ way before this turned into a laugher.
Ross Johnston, the physical left wing playing his third game on Mathew Barzal’s top line, skated around defenseman Luke Schenn and beat McElhinney over his blocker and off the far post from the right faceoff circle to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 6:44 of the second period.
Seconds earlier, Varlamov had turned aside Cory Conacher’s breakaway.
“We got saves, a breakaway save, and then Johnner scores,” Nelson said. “It’s a huge swing.”
The second critical moment came when Trotz successfully challenged that Anthony Cirelli was (way) offside on an apparent goal by defenseman Victor Hedman at 9:53 of the third period that would have pulled the Lightning within 3-2.
“It was offside, and fortunate for us,” Trotz said. “If that’s not offside, they’re probably hanging around there and getting some momentum. That was huge.”
The Lightning spent much of the early part of the third period hemming the Islanders in their zone, but Nelson made it 3-1 at 7:31 with an unassisted goal on his second whack at the crease. Carter Verhaeghe’s attempted pass in the Lightning zone deflected off Schenn’s stick and right to Nelson.
Bailey, with his first goal in 10 games, had made it 2-0 at 8:37 of the second period. He scored the Islanders’ fourth shorthanded goal of the season, getting to the crease and going to the forehand after the Lightning could not convert a four-on-two rush.
Stamkos brought the Lightning within 2-1 at 15:35 of the period, getting position at the crease against a turned-around Derick Brassard and sliding a backhander under a falling Varlamov.