TAMPA — This was the kind of game the Lightning needed.
It wasn't perfect by any stretch. But Tampa Bay, coming off four straight losses (one in overtime), got solid all-around play from each phase of the game in a 4-0 victory over the Islanders in front of 13,577 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The biggest star was goalie Mike Smith, who earned the team's first shutout of the season with a strong 30-save effort.
"Mike Smith was excellent (Saturday night)," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He made some really good saves out there. … He was the differencemaker for us."
Smith said that although the result was personally rewarding, it was more significant how the team bounced back, with players "simplifying" their game and doing the little things right.
"We're sliding a little bit right now in the standings, and it's important to stay close to the pack this time of year," Smith said. "And not separate yourself too far."
This one was a team effort.
There was the offense, which scored four times (most since Nov. 27), including rookie defenseman Victor Hedman's first NHL goal.
There was the Lightning's special teams, which had struggled lately but came to life Saturday. Tampa Bay (11-9-8) held New York (11-11-7) to 0-for-6 with the man advantage and scored two power-play goals (one more than they had in their 17 previous opportunities). There was a team meeting Saturday morning addressing the penalty kill, with Tocchet saying it wasn't a system issue, rather just individual breakdowns at inopportune times.
But the unit stepped up early during Saturday's game, killing off a five-on-three Islander power play with five minutes left in the first, partly thanks to a spectacular sprawling save by Smith.
Smith credited the defense for clearing lanes so he could see and sacrificing their bodies in front of shots.
"There were two or three key blocks in that (five-on-three) penalty kill," Smith said. "That's what you have to do in order to win hockey games."
The Lightning power play came through as well, scoring twice (in three chances). Steve Downie scored one in the first period, working hard in front of the net before knocking in a rebound. And Jeff Halpern had the other, in the third period, deflecting a Kurtis Foster slap shot.
And Tampa Bay even got some breaks, as two apparent New York goals were disallowed in the final two periods, one on a hand pass and another on goalie interference.
But the Islanders could never crack Smith.
Said New York coach Scott Gordon: "Smith was obviously on the top of his game."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Malone 16 (Meszaros, St. Louis), 1:35. 2, Tampa Bay, Downie 5 (Meszaros, St. Louis), 19:08 (pp). Penalties—Foster, TB (interference), 15:02; Meszaros, TB (boarding), 15:41; Witt, NYI (slashing), 18:26.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Jackman, NYI, major (fighting), :05; Hale, TB, major (fighting), :05; Witt, NYI (slashing), 5:38; Walker, TB (holding), 10:50; MacDonald, NYI (roughing), 15:30; Downie, TB, double minor (roughing), 15:30; Foster, TB (elbowing), 18:54.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Halpern 5 (Foster, Lecavalier), 2:58 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Hedman 1 (Lecavalier, Tanguay), 10:31. Penalties—Park, NYI (tripping), 2:44; Hedman, TB (holding), 13:00. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 7-9-14—30. Tampa Bay 7-12-6—25. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 0 of 6; Tampa Bay 2 of 3. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Roloson 9-3-5 (25 shots-21 saves). Tampa Bay, M.Smith 5-5-5 (30-30). A—13,577 (19,758). T—2:26. Referees—Rob Martell, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—Brad Lazarowich, Michel Cormier.