ELMONT, N.Y. — If this is how the New York Islanders play down the stretch, consider the NHL officially on notice.
Three goals apiece in the first and second periods paced a blowout 6-2 victory over a dangerous Tampa Bay Lightning team for the Islanders (22-17-12) on Thursday night at UBS Arena, their second consecutive victory to start the post-All-Star-break schedule.
“The will was phenomenal,” head coach Patrick Roy said. “This is a skilled team we played against and the unit of five coming back, supporting each other, being quick on every battle… our guys were playing well. We moved that puck fast. We didn’t play with it, we made good decisions in the neutral zone. I was very pleased with what I saw tonight.”
Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal each recorded a goal and an assist while Casey Cizikas scored in his first game back in five weeks after recovering from a lower-body injury.
“I thought everybody was going tonight,” Horvat said. “We were on top of them the whole time and we limited their time and space. A team like that is going to get chances but for the most part, I thought we did a good job of containing them.”
Ilya Sorokin made 15 saves as he watched his side dominate, outshooting Tampa Bay 24-17 on the night which included just 10 shots yielded over the first two periods of play on their way to build that insurmountable 6-2 lead.
An overpowering start from the Islanders in which they outshot the Lightning 14-3 staked them to a 3-1 lead after the opening frame.
Noah Dobson opened the scoring for the Islanders 4:07 into the game after cutting toward the goal from his usual post on the point and sending a cross-ice feed from the right circle that was intended for Oliver Wahlstrom at the left post. It never got to Wahlstrom, but it deflected off Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak and in for Dobson’s seventh goal and 53rd point of the season.
The Lightning replied just 2:35 later, though, when Nikita Kucherov’s wrist shot from the point deflected off an Islander and past Sorokin. It was Kucherov’s team-leading 33rd goal of the campaign.
Barzal put the Islanders back up with 5:53 to go in the frame when he popped a backhander over Lightning goalie Jonas Johansson from just inside the left circle. He was the benefactor of an industrious shift from Horvat, who won the face-off in the Tampa zone, worked it forward, and shuffled the pass over the Barzal.
“We’ve played together enough where [Horvat] knows where I’m going to the backside,” Barzal said. “He just whacked it over there and fortunately, I was there.”
Kyle Palmieri added a third with 1:25 left, one-timing a Mike Reilly pass from behind the net after the defenseman pinched in and circled down the left boards. It was a quick drop pass from Reilly, who fed Palmieri before he completely circled the net — the forward at the left post to complete the chance.
A Scott Mayfield tripping penalty with 4.6 seconds left in the first opened the door for Tampa Bay to get right back in it early in the second. Just 1:14 into the middle frame, Brandon Hagel cleaned up a rebound in front of Sorokin to bring the visitors back to within one on just their fifth shot of the night.
But the Islanders swung right back, connecting twice in quick succession with two goals in 1:08 midway through the period.
Ryan Pulock scored his first goal back from a lengthy IR stint, cannoning a slap shot over the glove of Johansson at the 7:10 mark.
“It always feels good to score and sometimes they’re harder to find when you’re a d-man,” Pulock said of his third goal of the season. “When you can get on the board like that in a crucial part of the game, that feels good.”
Horvat one-timed a wrister from center point off a Barzal feed through minimal traffic — one the Lightning goalie surely would want back.
Cizikas, playing in his first game since Jan. 9, picked up the Islanders’ sixth off a turnover in the Tampa zone, collecting the puck on the left wing and beating Johansson at his near post from close range with 4:38 remaining.
“I’m just happy to be back,” Cizikas said. “It’s tough watching the guys battle every single night and going at it together. You want to be part of it so bad. That pushed me even harder to get back. The way it went tonight, the guys made it easy for me.”