UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Coach Jon Cooper figured rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy would want to "make a statement" Saturday night, especially considering starter Ben Bishop is getting closer to returning.
Vasilevskiy, 20, certainly did, stealing the show with 45 saves, a Lightning rookie record. "I don't know who got the stars, but he should have been all three," Cooper said. "He was outstanding."
Too bad his teammates were mostly spectators in a 3-1 loss to the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. The Lightning was outshot 48-21, outmuscled and flat-out outplayed by the Islanders in one of its more disappointing performances. Tampa Bay has dropped six of eight, including four of five on this nine-day trip.
"We got dominated out there," captain Steven Stamkos said. "If it wasn't for 'Vasy,' who knows what the score would have been. I hope that's a wakeup call to us."
"We've played 33, 34 games," Cooper said. "And we haven't had one like that all year."
The crazy thing is, the Lightning nearly stole a win, with Brett Connolly breaking a scoreless tie midway through the third by tipping in a Tyler Johnson pass. But the Islanders scored twice in 12 seconds in the last 3:09 and added an empty-netter to seal the deal.
"It's like 1, 2, 3 and you lose," said Vasilevskiy, whose saves record bettered the 44 of Corey Schwab in 1996-97 and matched by Karri Ramo in 2008-09.
Cooper said the Lightning (20-11-4) "ran out of gas" after chasing the Islanders almost all night. It played the third period shorthanded, with defenseman Jason Garrison out with an unspecified injury. John Tavares' tying goal ended a span of more than one minute of possession in Tampa Bay's zone.
Anders Lee, whom Cooper coached in Green Bay, scored the winner on a deflection in front.
But the biggest culprit for Tampa Bay continued to be its struggling offense. The Lightning, once the highest-scoring team in the league, has mustered two goals or fewer in seven of the past 10, with three power-play tallies in the past 11.
"Tough to win games like that," Cooper said.
But Tampa Bay, thanks to banking a ton of points in a strong start to the season, is tied with Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead heading into Tuesday's showdown with Pittsburgh. Bishop, who has a lower-body injury, could be back by then.
If he is, that means Vasilevskiy would be sent back to AHL Syracuse late next week. But Vasilevskiy has made an impression after picking up a win — and deserving another — in two starts. "He's been extremely impressive," Cooper said. "He's in the development stage right now, but it's good to know we've got some depth."
First Period—None. Penalties—Cizikas, NYI (interference), 15:54; Morrow, TB (interference), 19:02.
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Second Period—None. Penalties—Paquette, TB (boarding), 7:39; Garrison, TB (high-sticking), 10:42.
Third Period—1, TB, Connolly 6 (T.Johnson, Barberio), 9:16. 2, NYI, Tavares 13 (Okposo, Bailey), 16:51. 3, NYI, Lee 7 (Hamonic, Nelson), 17:03. 4, NYI, Kulemin 6 (Clutterbuck), 18:49 (en). Penalties—Hamonic, NYI (roughing), 19:24. Shots on Goal—TB 5-4-12—21. NYI 12-17-19—48. Power-play opportunities—TB 0 of 2; NYI 0 of 3. Goalies—TB, Vasilevskiy 1-1-0 (47 shots-45 saves). NYI, Halak 18-6-0 (21-20).