There was no tentative play, no signs of an extended break. Just hockey with a physical edge, some end-to-end skating, some great goaltending, some desperation.
In short, a playoff-like feel.
The Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders, playing for the first time in 10 days after their combined All-Star break and bye week, lost a 1-0 shootout to the NHL-leading Lightning on Friday night but proved their equal over 65 minutes before a crowd of 13,917, the fifth sellout in eight games at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“It was a fun hockey game,” Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. “You can’t ask for a better test coming out of the break. I think we answered the call.”
Victor Hedman, in the first round, scored the only goal of the shootout as Andre Vasilevskiy (36 saves) denied Brock Nelson, Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey.
Still, the Islanders (29-15-6) matched their season-high point streak at seven games (5-0-2).
“It’s great. The first game back from the break, it was a good effort,” said goalie Thomas Greiss, who stopped 41 shots in a virtuoso performance, including 16 in the third period, for his third shutout. “They’re a good team. They’re going to get their chances.”
The Lightning (38-11-2) were shut out for the first time.
“I liked our effort. I liked our focus,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “I liked a lot of things in our game. Coming out of the break, you don’t know what you’re going to get. I thought, for the most part, we did a really good job.”
The Islanders went into their extended vacation on a 15-3-1 run after a 3-2 shootout loss at Chicago on Jan. 22. There’s no more rest on the horizon, though. Starting with the Lightning contest, the Islanders will play their final 33 games in a 65-day stretch.
The only real negative for the Islanders on Friday was their 0-for-4 power-play performance, including a failed four-on-three advantage in overtime after Nikita Kucherov crosschecked Nick Leddy at 3:23.
“We’ve got to score,” said captain Anders Lee, who took a team-high six shots.
The Islanders went 1-1-1 against the Lightning, including a 5-1 win at Barclays Center on Jan. 13, when they scored three goals in the opening 4:43 and Greiss made 38 saves.
The Islanders showed little rust Friday right from the opening faceoff. Greiss, who made 14 saves in the opening 20 minutes, denied Brayden Point on an early two-on-one chance, stuffed Yanni Gourde at the left post, then snatched Steven Stamkos’ power-play shot from the left circle at 15:18 of the first period.
Vasilevskiy made back-to-back saves on Ryan Pulock from the right circle and Michael Dal Colle’s wide-open rebound look from the low slot. Vasilevskiy committed more larceny at 10:09 of the second period when he sprawled to make a toe save on Valtteri Filppula at the right post off a rush.
The game grew nastier as the period progressed. Leo Komarov went after Kucherov for what the Islanders perceived as a first-period slew foot on Scott Mayfield. Matt Martin crunched Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi into the corner boards, got in a high hit on Erik Cernak and wrestled with Hedman after Vasilevskiy stopped him at the right post.
Late in the period, the Islanders’ Devon Toews ended a shift by dumping the puck into the Lightning zone before Cedric Paquette took a late run at him and nearly dumped the defenseman fully over the boards and into the Islanders’ bench.
Greiss started the third period robbing Point again on a redirection at the crease off an odd-man rush at 1:51.