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Lightning holds off Islanders in familiar scenario

Nagging problems play roles as concern remains about how Tampa Bay is winning as the playoffs approach.
Andrei Vasilevskiy  allows at least three goals for the 18th time in his past 26 starts but gets his league-leading 42nd win. (Associated Press)
Andrei Vasilevskiy allows at least three goals for the 18th time in his past 26 starts but gets his league-leading 42nd win. (Associated Press)
Published Mar. 23, 2018
Updated Mar. 23, 2018

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — When the buzzer mercifully sounded at Barclays Center on Thursday, the Islanders' 41st shot whizzing wide in the final seconds, the crowd groaned a collective "Oooooh."

And Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy could finally exhale.

Vasilevskiy had helped the Lightning hold on for a 7-6 victory over the Islanders in a game that should never have never been that close. Not with Tampa Bay entering the third period with a four-goal lead at 7-3. One by one, Lightning teammates approached their 23-year-old goaltender for a stick tap on the pads, a pat on the head.

They should have bought him a few beers, too.

WATCH: See highlights of the Lightning's win over the Islanders.

"There was a 10-minute period there where we didn't really help him at all," said Brayden Point, who had a goal and two assists.

There was a lot to celebrate. The Lightning set a franchise season record with its 51st win, bettering the 2014-15 team. Coach Jon Cooper tied John Tortorella for career wins in Tampa Bay with his 239th. The Lightning extended its first-place lead in the Atlantic Division to six points. It's on a 12-2-1 run.

"Give the guys a pat on the back for doing what they've done," Cooper said.

Then why is there still a concern, from fans to even captain Steven Stamkos, about how they're winning? There's worry about whether Vasilevskiy — who admitted a few weeks ago he was tired — is running out of gas. He has allowed at least three goals in 18 of his past 26 starts after 11 such games in his first 33. Not that it is all on him.

Cooper said he gave no thought to pulling Vasilevskiy in the third. Might that have that been a message to his team to shape up defensively? No, Cooper insisted.

"The message is, he's our guy," Cooper said. "In that moment, I thought he gave us the best chance to win. It's also, for a young goaltender, you've got to fight through games like this. It's not always going to be 2-1 or 3-2. Sometimes it's about getting the win, and 'Vasy' found a way to get the win, especially now at a trying time when we gave up three (goals in the third) and now he's got to close it out for us. He closed it out."

RELATED: Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev scores his first goal since Dec. 16.

Vasilevskiy did, for a league-leading 42nd win. He has faced 40-plus shots eight times this season and is 7-1 in those games.

It didn't look like he would need dramatics in the first two periods. Tampa Bay didn't give the Islanders much. And it scored in bunches.

Rookie Anthony Cirelli, promoted to the third line, continued to play like someone destined to be a surprise regular in the playoffs. He had another two-point night, scoring the first goal on a slick wraparound. Then he set up Point's shorthanded goal on a 2-on-1.

Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev notched a cathartic goal, his first since Dec. 16, with his enthusiastic fist-pump-and-yell celebration saying it all.

Wing J.T. Miller scored twice, giving him 20 goals on the season and seven in 11 games since getting acquired from the Rangers at the trade deadline. No doubt that Miller, who can be a restricted free agent this summer, can see his price tag going up.

RELATED: Joe Smith's takeaways from the Lightning's win.

But things started to slip in the third, the Islanders scoring three times in the first five minutes. Anders Lee scored first. Then Anthony Beauvillier scored back-to-back goals. One came off a bad turnover by Adam Erne, another on a deflection. The Lightning had issues in its defensive zone. It gave up three power-play goals, and the penalty kill continued to be an issue.

"When you're in a game like (Thursday) going into the third, just close them out," Stamkos said. "Don't give them a chance. The penalty kill is struggling. Then stay out of the box. That's a start. There's areas to improve on. It's all self-inflicted, which is the frustrating part."

Shootouts are made for March Madness, not for mid-March playoff primers for Stanley Cup contenders.

"We know the recipe," Victor Hedman said. "It's about executing it."

Lightning 3 4 0 7

Islanders 1 2 3 6
First—1, TB, Cirelli 3 (Coburn, Gourde), 2:09. 2, TB, Johnson 21 (Sergachev, Kunitz), 2:35. 3, NYI, Pulock 8 (Tavares, Eberle), 10:24 (pp). 4, TB, Hedman 14 (Palat, Point), 14:17. Penalties—Pelech, NYI, (tripping), 8:54; Hedman, TB, (hooking), 9:03; Kucherov, TB, (elbowing), 9:58; TB bench, served by Kucherov (too many men on the ice), 12:08; Ladd, NYI, (interference), 19:49.

Second—5, TB, Point 28 (Cirelli, McDonagh), 2:43 (sh). 6, NYI, Pulock 9 (Eberle, Beauvillier), 3:20 (pp). 7, NYI, Lee 37 (Bailey), 5:15. 8, TB, Miller 19 (Coburn, Stamkos), 8:27. 9, TB, Sergachev 9 (Point, Gourde), 11:22 (pp). 10, TB, Miller 20 (Hedman, Kucherov), 18:20 (pp). Penalties—TB bench, served by Sergachev (too many men on the ice), 1:56; Lee, NYI, (hooking), 10:00; Hickey, NYI, (hooking), 17:34; Hedman, TB, (tripping), 19:42.

Third—11, NYI, Lee 38 (Bailey, Tavares), 1:35 (pp). 12, NYI, Beauvillier 15 (Eberle), 3:21. 13, NYI, Beauvillier 16 (Boychuk, Barzal), 4:36. Penalties—None.

Shots on goal—TB 16-10-10—36. NYI 11-16-14—41. Power-play opportunities—TB 2 of 4; NYI 3 of 5. Goalies—TB, Vasilevskiy 41-14-3 (41 shots-35 saves). NYI, Halak 18-24-6 (12-11), Gibson 2-1-2 (24-18).