Kevin Poulin struggled along with the rest of the Islanders when the young goaltender got his chance in November and December. Aside from a strong effort during a shootout win in San Jose, Poulin lost seven of eight starts in goal while Evgeni Nabokov was out with a groin injury.
Nabokov is out again with a quadriceps strain, but Poulin and the Islanders don't look anything like the team that flubbed and blundered its way through November and early December.
Poulin matched Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop -- the top netminder in the league this season -- save for save, then did Bishop one better with two stops and a friendly post in the shootout, giving the Islanders a 2-1 win over the Lightning last night.
"It's great to see the way he's stepped up with Nabby out," said Frans Nielsen, who set up Thomas Vanek's power-play goal late in the second, then scored the only goal of the shootout. "Kevin had some really good saves tonight and all the way along this road trip."
Poulin jumped into action Jan. 6 at home, coming in cold for Nabokov in the first period against the Stars. Since then, Poulin is 5-1-0, allowing only 13 goals in that stretch.
The Islanders won for the eighth time in 10 games, and the eighth time in their last nine games on the road.
The Isles needed to be able to play a strong game from the net on out against a Lightning team that is very strong in goal.
Poulin and the Islanders spotted Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead on Marty St. Louis' power-play goal 5:45 in. But even with an early deficit for the sixth straight game and the absence of top-pair defenseman Travis Hamonic, Poulin and his team played smart and tight, trying to keep the speedy Lightning away from rebounds and Poulin's crease.
"We've been on the road for a long time and sometimes it's not pretty playing on the road," Poulin said. "We try to get whistles and get the guys we want on the ice and play a simple game."
Vanek's goal, off a faceoff win by John Tavares and a quick pass by Nielsen, tied the score with 1:38 left in the second period.
The Islanders had only one shot on Bishop through 13 minutes of the third and Poulin had to stop Victor Hedman twice on attacks off the point, plus get help from the iron on Radko Gudas' quick shot early in the third.
Bishop needed his post on Tavares' redirection inside of seven minutes remaining in the third, and the Islanders were more aggressive in OT. Both goaltenders finished with 29 saves in 65 minutes.
Valtteri Filppula led off the shootout by ringing one off the post and Nielsen scored on the Isles' first attempt. Poulin denied Nikita Kucherov and then Hedman for the win.
The Islanders' six-game road trip ends in Philadelphia tomorrow, and Poulin and the Isles could give themselves a real chance to make up some ground in the Metro Division with their already successful road swing.
"Their D activate real well and they gave us some problems," Jack Capuano said. "Kevin was very solid, he was real poised back there. This is a real opportunity for him and he's given us a chance every night."