TAMPA — This game was slipping away from the Lightning midway through the second.
After a dominating first 20 minutes — arguably Tampa Bay’s best of the season — it took its foot off the gas. New York took over, erasing the Lightning’s two-goal lead in two minutes. And the Islanders could have blown it open had it not been for goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
"Thankfully," coach Jon Cooper said, "Yanni Gourde came to the rescue."
The hero in Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Islanders was not All-Stars Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos. It was Gourde, the undrafted and undersized forward, who scored twice in a two-minute span late in the second to lift the Lightning (19-6-2) to a second straight win. Both goals came on rebounds near the crease, Gourde showing why Tampa Bay’s depth is one of its biggest strengths.
"It takes a lot of will and skill to be around the net like that, and he’s definitely willing to do that," veteran wing Chris Kunitz said. "He’s scored some big goals for us."
Especially against the Islanders. Gourde has four of his eight goals this season in two games against New York. "Yes, I’d love to see them again," Gourde said, smiling. "I’ll take it."
The Lightning could very well see the Islanders again in the postseason, New York looking like one of the team’s biggest challengers in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders had beaten Tampa Bay 5-3 here on Nov. 18, taking a 3-0 lead, something the Lightning remembered.
"It’s just the feeling inside the room, you don’t want to be embarrassed," Kunitz said. "We needed a great start."
The Lightning got it, scoring on the first shift. Brayden Point converting a slick feed by Ondrej Palat. The Lightning was relentless, showing a dogged determination fans saw in its red-hot start to the season and missed during its recent slide. Andrej Sustr scored his second goal of the season, set up by Ryan Callahan’s hustle and steal. The Islanders had three shot attempts in the first period, and Vasilevskiy must have been yawning in net.
But the Islanders came out flying to start the second, taking the first nine shots (hitting two posts), before dazzling rookie Mathew Barzal’s backhand made it 2-1. Barzal then fed Jordan Eberle two minutes later for the tying goal.
"We took our foot off the gas," Kunitz said.
But Vasilevskiy (29 saves) kept Tampa Bay in it, and a power-play goal by Gourde finally woke the Lightning up with five minutes left in the second. Rookie Mikahil Sergachev’s point shot caromed off the boards, and Gourde pounced on it at the left post to give the Lightning the lead for good. Gourde nearly had another moments later in a great opportunity from the top of the crease. Gourde, at 5-foot-9, never backs down in the dirty areas. And his rebound off a Slater Koekkoek chance gave Tampa Bay the needed two-goal cushion.
"That’s where most goals are scored," Gourde said. "And that’s where I want to be."
Vladislav Namestnikov would add another power-play goal late in the second, and Kunitz had a beauty of a strip-and-score in the third. It’s telling that on a night that both Kucherov and Stamkos didn’t score — and Victor Hedman was held off the scoresheet — the Lightning could put up six against a very good team.
"All four lines can score — all six ‘D’ can shoot the puck," Gourde said. "It’s great to have that depth. It’s good to see other guys score, too."
But on Tuesday, it was Yanni’s night.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 10 (Kucherov, Palat), 0:34. 2, Tampa Bay, Sustr 2 (Kunitz, Callahan), 17:47. Penalties—Lee, NYI, (slashing), 15:08.
Second Period—3, N.Y. Islanders, Barzal 7 (Leddy, Tavares), 7:07 (pp). 4, N.Y. Islanders, Eberle 11 (Barzal, Pelech), 8:58. 5, Tampa Bay, Gourde 7 (Sergachev, Johnson), 16:22 (pp). 6, Tampa Bay, Gourde 8 (Conacher, Koekkoek), 17:56. 7, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 11 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 18:46 (pp). Penalties—Point, TB, (tripping), 5:34; Chimera, NYI, (roughing), 14:51; Lee, NYI, (tripping), 18:42.
Third Period—8, Tampa Bay, Kunitz 4, 6:00. Penalties—Tampa Bay bench, served by Conacher (too many men on the ice), 11:21; Nelson, NYI, (cross checking), 13:30. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 2-17-12—31. Tampa Bay 11-13-10—34. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 1 of 2; Tampa Bay 2 of 4. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Greiss 8-3-2 (34 shots-28 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 18-4-1 (31-29). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:25. Referees—Brad Meier, Ian Walsh. Linesmen—Jonny Murray, Pierre Racicot.