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Lightning take down Islanders in first meeting since playoffs

Tampa Bay survives New York’s offensive pressure in the final two periods to win 4-1.
Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) receives a few punches to the face from Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) during second-period action at Amalie Arena on Monday night.
Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) receives a few punches to the face from Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) during second-period action at Amalie Arena on Monday night. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 16
Updated Nov. 16

TAMPA — They haven’t all been pretty, but there’s been a consistent — and a familiar — thread throughout the Lightning’s eight-game point streak.

This group claimed back-to-back Stanley Cups realizing that games are won in the postseason with strong defense. In the Lightning’s 4-1 victory Monday night over the Islanders at Amalie Arena — the teams’ first meeting since Game 7 of last season’s Cup semifinals — they revisited the the stellar defense that helped them eliminate New York in their most tightly contested playoff series five months ago.

The game was fast and physical. The teams combined for 82 hits, and there were were three fights and several scrums, giving the matchup a postseason feel.

The Lightning (8-3-3) are now 6-0-2 over their last eight games. They have allowed two or fewer goals in seven of those games after yielding 4.3 goals a game in their first six.

“I think at the end of the day, we realize against top teams like this, you’ve got to defend and that’s been our recipe the last couple playoff runs,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “... I think our group has taken a lot of pride in playing well in our own zone.”

The Lightning looked at their past three games — in which they played Carolina, Florida and the Islanders, the teams they beat to advance to the Cup final — as a measuring stick. They emerged from the stretch with five of six possible points.

“If you told me that at the beginning of the three games, we would have taken that all day,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Those are teams you’re going to end up seeing at the end. And if you want to get there, you have to beat these teams. And when you’re at home, you definitely have to take those points.”

There was a lot of action from the beginning — when Pat Maroon and Zdeno Chara fought following the opening puck drop — to the end — when rookie Boris Katchouk wrestled down the 6-foot-9 Chara in the third period after taking a high stick to the head. And there was plenty of talking and shoving in between.

Anthony Cirelli’s nose was swollen and plugged, face bloodied after taking a puck to it in the final period. But he drew bigger kudos when he raced in to fight Islanders forward Brock Nelson after Nelson charged in to hit teammate Alex Killorn against the boards in the second period. Cirelli landed several overhead right-handed punches to Nelson’s head before the two were separated.

Steven Stamkos (91) and Mathieu Joseph (7) celebrate Joseph’s goal to tie the score at 1-1 during the opening period.
Steven Stamkos (91) and Mathieu Joseph (7) celebrate Joseph’s goal to tie the score at 1-1 during the opening period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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“That’s a big foundation of our team, sticking up for your teammates,” McDonagh said of Cirelli. “(He had) no hesitation at all. We would love to have him on the ice more but at the end of the day, protecting your teammates and setting the tone like that goes along with everyone.”

Cirelli gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead, scoring with 37.3 seconds left in the opening period. Playing in front of the net, Cirelli snapped a shot through traffic and past goaltender Semyon Varlamov gloveside.

The Lightning allowed a goal just 2:53 into the game when a Victor Hedman turnover gave Islanders forward Mathew Barzal a breakaway.

Pat Maroon (14) drops the gloves and fights with Zdeno Chara (33) at the start of the first period.
Pat Maroon (14) drops the gloves and fights with Zdeno Chara (33) at the start of the first period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

But Tampa Bay answered on the next shift, with Mathieu Joseph scoring just 23 seconds after Barzal. Killorn’s pressure by the near boards forced a bad pass from Sebastian Aho that went untouched to the top of the right circle. Joseph snagged it, circled around into the high slot and beat Varlamov gloveside with a wrister.

“That was the big goal,” Cooper said. “To equalize it right away took a weight off our shoulders.”

The Lightning distanced themselves in the third on goals from Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, the latter coming on the power play, inside the final seven minutes of the game.

Steven Stamkos (91) and Mathieu Joseph (7) celebrate Joseph’s goal to tie the score at 1-1 during the opening period.
Steven Stamkos (91) and Mathieu Joseph (7) celebrate Joseph’s goal to tie the score at 1-1 during the opening period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who owns a 1.57 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in seven starts over the Lightning’s point streak, made 26 saves, including 20 in the final two periods.

The Lightning were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and 9-for-10 over their past three games. Tampa Bay had to kill off back-to-back penalties in the second period Monday.

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