It's not at all simple, what's become of the Islanders this season. They played their best 57 minutes in months Tuesday night, building a two-goal lead and dominating the Lightning.
They somehow blew it, though, in a 3-2 shootout loss that defied explanation. And Evgeni Nabokov, who was prone on his back in the final seconds as Valtteri Filppula found the loose puck and swept it in with 3.9 seconds to go to tie it, had a simple answer.
"We don't know how to win the games," said Nabokov as his team dropped to 1-9-4 in the last 14 games and 3-14-4 in the last 21. "What else can you say? All the efforts go down the toilet. We don't know how to win. Bottom line."
It appeared as though the Islanders would, finally, play a complete game to earn their first regulation win since Nov. 12. Kyle Okposo scored on the power play 11 seconds into the second and Frans Nielsen scored off the rush at 10:21 of the third, his first goal in 13 games and the first point for Michael Grabner in 25 games after a nifty pass on a two-on-one.
The Isles' defensemen were strong in their own end. There was a goal from a line other than John Tavares' group. Nabokov, who shut out the Canadiens for 61 minutes on Saturday, was solid again into the late stages of the third.
And then it was gone. Nielsen inexplicably threw a backhand pass off the boards in his own zone right to Filppula, who beat Nabokov before the goaltender could get set to make it 2-1 with 2:53 to go.
Even then, the Islanders didn't bend much.
"We didn't really give them anything after they scored," Okposo said.
With Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop off for an extra skater and 90 seconds to go, the Islanders didn't gun for the empty net, choosing to chip pucks out and regroup.
But inside of 10 seconds, the Islanders were scrambling in front of their own net. Four of their five skaters left their feet in the crease; Brian Strait sat on Nabokov. But the puck stayed loose and Filppula grabbed it and calmly deposited it into the net.
The Islanders were cautious in overtime. "We had the wind taken out of our sails and we didn't recover," Okposo said.
Filppula and Nikita Kucherov scored in the shootout and it was done, the fourth straight home game for the Islanders in which they either blew a lead in the third period or blew a winnable game in overtime.
On Friday, the Islanders visit the similarly fragile Rangers. Someone has to win, but neither team is doing much to gain the support of its fans.
"It's unbelievable," said Tavares, who got up slowly after he was knocked down by Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas and slammed hard into the boards after having a scoring chance stopped in the third. Tavares called the play " ---- dirty."
Tavares and the few Islanders who remained in the locker room sat in stunned silence. They've felt that way before over the last six weeks of losses and missed opportunities, but Tuesday night's was a new low.
"Make the right plays," Nabokov said when asked how the Islanders get out of this funk.
"We almost have to play that perfect game to win," Tavares said.
Maybe not perfect, but the full 60 minutes would be a start.
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