UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Antero Niittymaki made a tremendous right-leg save on the Islanders' Richard Park late in the third period of Saturday's game.
But nobody was there to clear out the rebound or challenge Park, who zipped the puck over the Lightning's lunging goalie with 2:22 left to give New York a 5-4 victory at Nassau Coliseum.
"That's the house, and that's what we have to protect better," defenseman Matt Walker said.
"That should be a war zone for guys going into that area. We have to make it a tougher place to be."
Quickly, as the Lightning (26-23-11), with two straight losses, faces the Rangers today at Madison Square Garden.
New York is two points behind Tampa Bay in the East. So a win means putting distance between a pursuer while surpassing the Canadiens for the conference's final playoff spot and tying the Bruins for seventh. It also means salvaging a bit of the momentum the team wanted to create heading into the two-week Olympic break.
How do you lose momentum?
Give away two points to a team, the Islanders, chasing you in the standings despite leading 3-2 in the second period and with a 4-4 tie in the third.
Allow 10 goals in two games, as many as allowed in seven previous, and continue a scoring drought among some top players.
Steven Stamkos scored his team-best 34th goal, and Steve Downie scored his 14th 2:57 into the third to tie the score 4-4.
But Vinny Lecavalier is now at four straight games without a point. Alex Tanguay had an assist but has one goal in 11 games, and Ryan Malone has zero goals in 10.
"I can't answer that anymore," coach Rick Tocchet said when asked how to engage those players. "I'm tired of it. What are you going to do?
"You keep plugging away and stick with the guys, and hopefully, they'll break through."
So back to the porous defense that included Lecavalier at minus-3.
Kyle Okposo scored from in close with 3:48 left in the second period to make it 3-3 after getting between defenseman Andrej Meszaros, Tanguay and Lecavalier.
Park scored a minute later from in front of the net off a rebound to make it 4-3. And then there was the debacle on his winner.
"It wasn't chances coming down from the outside, taking shots, that sort of thing. It was guys are coming right down the pipe," Walker said. "We're giving Grade A chances in the slot and in the 10-foot circle around the net."
"Execution with the puck, decisions with the puck, they're killing us," Marty St. Louis said.
And with Niittymaki for the second straight game off the level he showed on his 7-0-1 run, those mistakes were exposed.
Not exactly what the Lightning wanted to see.
First Period—1, N.Y. Islanders, Comeau 7 (Schremp), 7:31. 2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 34 (St. Louis, Foster), 11:14. 3, Tampa Bay, Lundin 2 (Stamkos), 14:29. Penalties—Streit, NYI (interference), :44; Bergenheim, NYI (tripping), 1:26; N.Thompson, TB (cross-checking), 4:39; Bergenheim, NYI (hooking), 11:33; N.Thompson, TB, major (fighting), 14:15; Martin, NYI, major-misconduct (fighting), 14:15; Downie, TB (slashing), 18:52.
Second Period—4, N.Y. Islanders, Weight 1 (Okposo), 4:26. 5, Tampa Bay, N.Thompson 2 (Tanguay, Halpern), 12:27. 6, N.Y. Islanders, Okposo 13 (Tavares, Sutton), 16:12. 7, N.Y. Islanders, Park 5 (Comeau, Biron), 17:12. Penalties—Smaby, TB (slashing), 13:36; Joensuu, NYI (interference), 17:49.
Third Period—8, Tampa Bay, Downie 14 (Ohlund, St. Louis), 2:57. 9, N.Y. Islanders, Park 6 (Weight, Moulson), 17:38. Penalties—N.Thompson, TB (interference), 4:39; Hunter, NYI (interference), 11:38. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 14-9-19—42. N.Y. Islanders 9-17-7—33. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 5; N.Y. Islanders 0 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 16-10-5 (33 shots-28 saves). N.Y. Islanders, Biron 4-11-2 (42-38). A—12,337 (16,234).