BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It finally caught up to the Lightning.
Slow starts had been an issue the past two games, but Tampa Bay outscored its problems to win both. That didn't work Sunday.
The Islanders scored three times on their first five shots and amassed what turned out to be an insurmountable lead in just five minutes on the way to winning 5-1.
"There's really no excuse," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We've been going over it and working on things in meetings and talking amongst ourselves. Maybe we needed to feel what it's like to get kicked in the teeth and not come back. Hopefully it's a lesson learned."
When the Lightning finally did regroup, goalie Thomas Greiss kept it from gaining any ground. The Lightning got chances, including 22 shots in the second period (39 total), but couldn't get goals.
"That's what you're going to get sometimes," defenseman Anton Stralman said of the Islanders' strong goaltending. "That's why you can't have that start. You can't dig a hole that is that deep on a gamely basis. It doesn't work."
Coach Jon Cooper was unhappy from the start. Almost immediately after the puck was dropped, the Lightning couldn't connect, and as players took position for another faceoff, cameras cut to Cooper's displeased expression.
"That first five minutes set the tone for us — actually, the first shift," he said. "We throw it on the bench in the first couple of seconds, take the penalty and then can't kill it off."
That penalty, a high-stick from defenseman Erik Cernak, turned into a power-play goal for forward Brock Nelson 1:21 in.
Forward Cal Clutterbuck made it 2-0 at 4:27 on a shot that deflected off Andrei Vasilevskiy's skate and bounced into the net. Just 36 seconds later, defenseman Devon Toews made it 3-0. He picked up a loose puck and scored from the point.
After that, the Islanders were able to play conservatively to protect their lead rather than really having to attack the Lightning.
Stralman stressed the need to play better defense overall. It's something he has said before. He hasn't been the only one to say that, but he might have put it the strongest when he said forwards may have to sacrifice a goal or two in order to be sharper on defense.
Sunday, Stralman said the offense has overshadowed the Lightning's defects. Tampa Bay has won games it could have lost because it's a high-scoring team. That won't cut it in the playoffs, though.
"We're not as strong as we need to be going into the playoffs," Stralman said. "Looking ahead, coming back from the bye week and the (All-Star) break (at the end of the month), we have to move towards a game that will carry us in the postseason. This is not it."
That's the reaction to a loss like this — not just that the Lightning wasn't good enough to win Sunday but that that kind of effort definitely won't be good enough to win in the long haul when the losses mean more. The Lightning wants to be more than a good regular-season team. The league's top team is looking forward to a long run in the postseason.
"It wasn't just one or two guys in the first period (Sunday), it was everybody," McDonagh said. "That's a recipe for disaster, and (the Islanders) took advantage of it."
First Period—1, N.Y. Islanders, Nelson 16 (Eberle, Barzal), 1:21 (pp). 2, N.Y. Islanders, Clutterbuck 3 (Martin, Cizikas), 4:27. 3, N.Y. Islanders, Toews 3, 4:43. Penalties—Cernak, TB, (high sticking), 0:20 Filppula, NYI, (tripping), 7:14 Cizikas, NYI, (hooking), 19:25.
Second Period—4, N.Y. Islanders, Cizikas 11 (Clutterbuck, Martin), 11:03. 5, Tampa Bay, McDonagh 5 (Palat, Stamkos), 18:12. Penalties—Cizikas, NYI, (delay of game), 13:55.
Third Period—6, N.Y. Islanders, Bailey 10 (Leddy, Lee), 19:08. Penalties—None.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 6-22-11_39. N.Y. Islanders 10-14-4_28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3 N.Y. Islanders 1 of 1. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 18-5-2 (27 shots-23 saves). N.Y. Islanders, Greiss 13-8-1 (39-38). Referees—Dan O'Rourke, Chris Rooney. Linesmen—David Brisebois, Bryan Pancich.