Islanders face big test against sizzling Lightning

NHL Hockey

The New York Islanders displayed their playoff-caliber mettle by mounting three consecutive third-period comebacks during a homestand against Western Conference foes.

The tests will continue Saturday, when the Islanders hit the road and visit the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Both teams were off Friday after extending winning streaks Thursday, when the Islanders came back from a pair of two-goal deficits to beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-3, and the Lightning never trailed in a 4-2 win over the host Pittsburgh Penguins.

By collecting five out of a possible six points against the Kings, Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars, the Islanders moved three points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, who are tied for the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card spots, entering Friday. New York has two games in hand on both teams.

The successful homestand infused the Islanders with some much-needed confidence following a two-month stretch in which they struggled to establish consistency. New York went 12-12-2 from Nov. 25 through Jan. 18, a span in which it had just two point streaks of more than two games.

With the win Thursday, the Islanders extended their point streak to five games (3-0-2). The points were particularly hard-earned the last three games, when Brock Nelson scored in the final minute of regulation to force overtime in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 1 before Mathew Barzal scored the tying goal with 3:59 left in a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

The Islanders fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 Thursday but scored the game’s final four goals, including an empty-netter by Anders Lee in which the New York captain dove for a loose puck to shove it into the unoccupied goal.

“This was a big game for us,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said Thursday night. “We had to battle back and win a hockey game. It’s the third time in a row we’ve had to do that. That shows a lot about our room. The best example of that was the empty-net goal.”

Things have been a little smoother in the win/loss columns for the Lightning, who have won five straight and are 17-2-1 since Dec. 23 to surge into second place in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay is 25-8-3 since its the last time it went consecutive games without earning a point (Nov. 16-19).

The Lightning haven’t even trailed in their last four victories, a span in which they have outscored the opposition 15-7. Tampa Bay has gone just over 268 minutes since it last trailed, which was in the second period of a 4-2 win over the Kings on Jan. 28.

The task going forward for the Lightning may have gotten tougher in the second period Thursday night, when defenseman Ryan McDonagh left after taking a slap shot off his ankle. Tampa Bay is already without defenseman Jan Rutta, who is expected to miss several weeks after suffering a lower-body injury against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night.

“I think we did a good job,” fellow defenseman Victor Hedman said of the Lightning finishing Thursday night’s game with five defensemen. “It was still fresh in our minds after Rutta went down in the last game and (McDonagh) today. Very happy with the five guys who had to finish it off.”

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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