Lightning finding form, host Islanders

NHL Hockey

After a sluggish start in the defense of their second straight Stanley Cup championship, the Tampa Bay Lightning are starting to round into form.

The three-time Cup champs close out a short three-game homestand Monday night by hosting the New York Islanders in a rematch of one of last season’s Stanley Cup semifinals.

After the NHL moved to a four-division realignment last season, the Central Division’s Lightning and East Division’s Islanders did not meet until the last step before the Stanley Cup Final, when Tampa Bay advanced with a 1-0 win in Game 7.

Now riding a seven-game point streak (5-0-2), the Lightning will play five of their next six contests on home ice, with only Thursday’s quick trip to Philadelphia breaking up the home stretch.

On Saturday in their 19th meeting against the Florida Panthers in this calendar year — which includes the preseason and postseason — sparkplug Brayden Point netted a breakaway for a 3-2 overtime win after being sprung on a long stretch pass by Ondrej Palat.

A key cog that drives Tampa Bay’s offense, Point skated in and potted the game-winning marker past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who had denied Victor Hedman in a one-on-one situation in the first minute of overtime.

Overtime is all about puck possession, and the speedy center — who has a propensity for magic in the five-minute extra segment — said he and his teammates have been more efficient in controlling the flow of the match.

“We’re managing the puck a lot better,” said Point, whose club has beaten Florida in 10 of the 19 games in 2021, including a split of the two meetings this season (both in Tampa). “Not as many turnovers. Not as many odd-man rushes against.”

His eight overtime winners are the third-most in franchise history, trailing Martin St. Louis (10) and captain Steven Stamkos (9).

The club owns a five-game home point streak (3-0-2) that started on Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, the Islanders have not played since Thursday’s 4-0 loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils in Newark — their 11th consecutive road game to start the campaign as their new arena is being readied.

Coach Barry Trotz’s group will play Tampa Bay before finishing the 13-game road trip in South Florida against the Panthers on Tuesday.

The Islanders will debut in their new stadium against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 20.

New York grids last in the super-competitive Metropolitan Division, where every team holds a winning percentage.

The Islanders had to play behind almost the whole way against the Devils after surrendering Janne Kuokkanen’s short-handed marker in the first period.

“We’re doing it to ourselves,” Trotz said after the club’s second straight setback. “I have no one to blame but ourselves. There’s a fine line right now, and we’re not on the right side of the line.”

The Islanders are 2-2-1 in their last five games and have only won consecutive games twice this season.

–Field Level Media

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