TAMPA — That the Lightning came through with a potentially series-saving 4-1 victory in Game 2 against the Islanders on Saturday was encouraging enough.
"This is one we absolutely needed," coach Jon Cooper said.
But it was how Tampa Bay evened its best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal that might be telling as everything shifts to New York for Tuesday's Game 3. The Lightning, which was too relaxed early in a Game 1 loss, controlled play, outshooting the Islanders 25-5 in the second half of the game. Tampa Bay has scored six of the series' past eight goals over the past four periods, in which they've had a 48-25 shot advantage.
"What I've been really happy with is how as games have gone on, I felt like we have taken over," Cooper said. "I thought the second and third periods, we turned it on a little bit."
And frustrated the Islanders.
This game was a lot more nasty and physical than Wednesday's Game 1. This is how the Lightning can play when it's on its game: forechecking, cycling in the offensive zone, using its speed. It had fewer turnovers and self-inflicted mistakes.
"We might not be the biggest team, we might not hit all the time, but when we use our speed and we're relentless, that's annoying to play against," said center Tyler Johnson, who had two goals in a three-point game. "I hate when teams are that way as well. When we're moving our feet, when we're working together, reading off each other and creating no time and space for the other team, that's huge."
Goalie Ben Bishop, pulled in the second period of Game 1, delivered the expected bounce-back performance, stopping 19 of 20 shots. "That was a no-doubter for us," Cooper said.
Jonathan Drouin continued to help carry Tampa Bay. He scored his first career playoff goal in the first period, and it was the eventual winner. His assist on Victor Hedman's power-play goal in the second period gave him a team-high-matching six assists.
"There's not much he can't do," Valtteri Filppula said.
Hedman, down another partner with Matt Carle out (undisclosed injury), was a dynamic force in playing 27:35 with a team-high five shots. His power-play goal midway through the second was a game-changer. Hedman's point shot was headed 5 feet wide of the net, but it deflected in off the skate of Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan to make the score 3-1.
"Got a little bit lucky," Hedman said. "Doesn't matter how they go in, as long as they do."
The reunited Triplets — Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov — were buzzing, with Johnson's first of two goals slickly set up by a saucer centering pass from Palat. "I told him it was perfect," Johnson said. "A little sauce but not too much. Good home-cooked Italian pasta."
Up two goals, the Lightning didn't let up in the third, getting a 12-3 shot advantage. The Islanders had eight shots in the final two periods, and goalie Thomas Greiss gave up two soft goals through his pads.
"Ultimately (the Islanders) came down here probably saying, 'If we get a split, it's all good for us,' " Cooper said. "And we're probably a little disappointed that we split. But if you look at us after losing Game 1 sitting here saying, 'We had to win Game 2,' and we got it. Now the pressure is on us to win one (in New York)."
First—1, TB, Johnson 3 (Palat, Hedman), 6:03. 2, TB, Drouin 1 (Filppula), 11:55. 3, N.Y. Islanders, Kulemin 1 (Hickey, Quine), 15:15 (pp). Penalties—Palat, TB (interference), 3:12; Callahan, TB (holding), 8:07; Boyle, TB (delay of game), 13:32; Hamonic, NYI (cross-checking), 20:00.
Second—4, TB, Hedman 1 (Johnson, Drouin), 11:59 (pp). Penalties—Drouin, TB (tripping), 1:09; Zidlicky, NYI (interference), 5:40; Clutterbuck, NYI (goaltender interference), 11:11; Killorn, TB (elbowing), 18:59; Nielsen, NYI (holding), 19:28.
Third—5, TB, Johnson 4 (Garrison), 17:42 (en). Penalties—Strome, NYI (roughing), 6:33; Marchessault, TB (slashing), 6:33; Martin, NYI (charging), 18:20; Clutterbuck, NYI (roughing), 19:22; Marchessault, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:22; Hickey, NYI (interference, slashing), 19:40; Killorn, TB (roughing), 19:40. SOG—N.Y. Islanders 12-5-3—20. TB 5-14-12—31. PPs—N.Y. Islanders 1 of 5; TB 1 of 5. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Greiss 5-3-0 (30 shots-27 saves). TB, Bishop 5-2-0 (20-19).