It had the makings of another horrific performance from the Islanders, this one before a season-low 7,324. The Isles were down 1-0 after the first period and out-shot, 16-3, by a power-packed Lightning team going after its fifth straight win. Isles wins have been rare as balmy December days, and more scarce than the recent lunar eclipse when trailing after one (1-13-3) or not scoring first (1-15-3).
Less than 30 seconds from returning to the locker room still trailing 1-0 after two periods, Andrew MacDonald blasted the puck from deep in his own end. John Tavares sprinted past Lightning defenders to gain control behind the net. His back to the play, Tavares passed to an open P.A. Parenteau, who beat Dan Ellis five-hole to tie the game at 19:43.
The game of inches resumed in the third, neither team giving any and both goaltenders making big stops to force overtime. That’s when Tavares, without a goal in his last nine matches, his franchise desperate for him to lift it upon his 20-year-old shoulders, ended it at 3:23 into overtime.
Hard work is finally starting to pay off for the Islanders, 2-1 victors over the Lightning. Just like that, the Isles have earned five out of a possible six points in three games – all against quality teams (Ducks, Coyotes, Lightning). Just like that, the Islanders, while still a laughable 3-17-4 in their last 24 games, are a win away from escaping the dungeon of the Eastern Conference. It’s only three games, but the Isles are learning the art of closing the deal.
“We’ve given up enough leads and enough opportunities to close out games. It was nice for us to step up,” Tavares said.
Following the forgettable first, the Islanders out-shot the Lightning, 25-19, through the remaining 43:23. The tattered defense also helped keep Steven Stamkos, second in the NHL with 26 goals and with five goals in his last five games, off the score sheet.
“The last three games have been something to build on,” Tavares said. “We’ve just got to make sure we keep focused on that. We can’t get complacent at all. We know how tough it’s been for us the last month and a half. We have to move forward and get something going.”
The next step is getting out of last place. The Isles get their chance tonight when they play the now-equally miserable Devils in Newark. Then again, the Devils (9-22-2) may actually be worse. A team 24-8-1 at this time last season and a cinch to make the playoffs every year has been ripped apart by injuries and is in salary cap hell. The Devs are 1-8 in December and have lost their last three games by a combined score of 15-2. Amazingly, while Scott Gordon was shown the door, first-year coach John MacLean is still working under the notoriously intolerant Lou Lamoriello.
UPDATE: Lamoriello’s patience finally ran out. He fired MacLean on Thursday and brought back Jacques Lemaire.
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