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Lightning kick off road trip with 4-2 win over Islanders

Feb 24, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) battle for control of the puck in the second period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off one of their most important road trips this season with a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders, one of the teams chasing them in the Wild Card race. Nick Paul, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Luke Glendening scored for the Bolts while Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

With some of their defenders a bit questionable for the game, the Lightning went with an 11/7 rotation as newcomer Max Crozier drew into the line-up while Cole Koepke, Austin Watson, and Tanner Jeannot were scratched among the forwards. Defenseman Haydn Fleury was also scratched for the contest.

Slow starts have plagued the Lightning during their three-game losing streak. On the road against a struggling Islanders team they needed to come out strong and establish their game early. Just four minutes into the contest it was Nick Paul doing Nick Paul things in front of the net.

Just as a Lightning power play was expiring, Brandon Hagel let go a shot from the right circle. The rebound came to Paul, who had slipped between a couple of defenders. He didn’t get all of it, but he got enough of it.

Nick Paul (Brandon Hagel, Darren Raddysh) 1-0 Lightning

Hagel picked up the primary assist to run his point streak to 12 games, the longest current streak in the NHL. With Kucherov running roughshod over the league in terms of points, it’s kind of overshadowed the strong season that Hagel has had for the team. He’s been an absolute gem of a player for this team.

One goal is nice, but it’s often not enough these days. A somewhat shoddy shift after goal led to the Islanders tying things up just 30 seconds later, but wait – a challenge. A stick tap to Nigel Kirwan and his video team as they spotted the Islanders entering the zone offside. The officials agreed and the goal was wiped off of the board.

With their 1-0 lead still intact, the Bolts went about attempting to double it. It didn’t take long as Nikita Kucherov did his thing with a shot from the high slot, the very high slot, as in just inside the blue line. It appeared to hit something in front of the net and change direction on Ilya Sorokin. It wasn’t a high stick or a skate that was in a kicking motion so it counted. Kucherov had his 37th goal of the season and the Lightning had a two-goal lead.

Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman, Nick Perbix) 2-0 Lightning

Not a bad way to open up a game on the road. While the offense was nice, the fact that they allowed 0 high-danger chances and just six shots against had to put a smile on Coach Cooper’s face. Strong first period’s are one thing, but second periods have been an absolute disaster on the road for the Bolts. That was not the case against New York.

Despite getting a little careless (they took three penalties in the period) they were able to extend their lead with a power play goal of their own. Five minutes into the middle frame the top unit was on the ice and they did their thing.

Brayden Point had the goal, but it was his work to keep control of the puck after a nice entry that made the play. After he brought it in, he was actually squeezed off the puck, but was able to fight through a body just enough to tap it to Kucherov. The points-leader than snapped a pass back to Point who beat Sorokin on the short side.

Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play Goal, 3-0 Lightning

In different circumstances (i.e. they weren’t playing the Lightning) you might have some sympathy for the Islanders. They weren’t playing terribly, but somehow they were down three goals. As the period wore on, and aided by those Lightning power plays, they did put a little pressure on the Bolts, but as a team, Tampa Bay was fairly solid in their own zone. They blocked some shots and forced quite a few wide. Despite 29 shot attempts, the Islanders were only able to direct 15 on net through the opening 40 minutes.

As we have come to expect with the Lightning this season, very few wins are easy wins. Why should this game be any different. They were able to bleed time off the clock for the first half of the final period, but as time wore down a couple of untimely penalties hurt a bit. With more than six minutes to play, head coach Patrick Roy got aggressive and pulled Sorokin (who had 17 saves) for a 6-on-4 power play after Calvin de Haan was called for tripping.

They didn’t score with the two-skater advantage, but just as the penalty expired, Anders Lee was able to deflect a puck past Vasilevskiy to get the home team on the board.

Anders Lee (Mathew Barzal, Noah Dobson) 3-1 Lightning

If the Lightning just stay out of the box, they probably win this one going away. That’s not their style, though. Victor Hedman was whistled for delay of game a few minutes later on a call that he quite adamantly did not agree with.

The six-on-four unit was back, and this time the Islanders cashed in with the power play. It was Brock Nelson with the screened wrister that Vasy almost got a glove on. The two-skater advantage really came into play with the Islanders able to keep the puck in the zone and overwhelm the Lightning a couple of times to prevent clears.

Brock Nelson (Noah Dobson) Power Play, 3-2 Lightning

With just over two minutes to go, it was hold-your-breath time for Lightning fans. A couple of blocked shots and a save by Vasy later, Luke Glendening had a chance to end it with an empty-netter, and he did. It was a nice job by Hedman to draw a couple of skaters to him in the neutral zone and then flip it into the empty space on the opposite side of the ice. Even if Glendening isn’t the first there, it would force the Islanders to regroup to bring the puck back up and kill off more clock.

Luke Glendening (Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov) Empty Net, 4-2 Lightning

Hedman ended up with three assists on the night while Kucherov had three points to push his total to 98 on the season. Nathan MacKinnon had three assists in their loss to the Maple Leafs, so Kucherov’s lead in the points race remains at two.

Crozier played 10:13 in his return to the Lightning, and once again found some chemistry with Emil Lilleberg. The duo didn’t allow a shot attempt against in their 3:31 of ice time together. He ended up with three shot attempts, one shot on goal, and one hit.

It wasn’t a perfect win for the Lightning, but it was a solid road win. Besides, they’re not in a position to critique or judge their wins on style points. Win pretty, win ugly, win boring, it doesn’t matter. As Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby!”.

The Bolts have a chance to make it two in a row on Sunday as they take on the New Jersey Devils at 1:00 PM.

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