ELMONT, NY — Four second-period goals from Adam Pelech, Brock Nelson — who posted a goal and two assists — Kyle Palmieri, and Ryan Pulock, lifted the New York Islanders to a 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at UBS Arena.
The win allowed the Islanders (40-30-9, 89 points) to stay in the second Wild Card and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both the Florida Panthers, who own the No. 1 Wild Card spot based on the regulation-win tie-breaker, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are just one point back of the Islanders, won earlier on Thursday night.
“We have three games left. We have to win hockey games,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “That’s it.”
It also ends a six-game regular-season winless drought that the Islanders had against the Lightning — the team that bounced them in consecutive Stanley Cup semifinals in 2020 and 2021 — dating back to December of 2019. These two teams played on Saturday with the Lightning winning 5-0.
“I thought we played a better game than we did there,” Lambert continued. “We had better to give… We played more aggressive and in their face and did a good job of that.”
Ilya Sorokin was superb once again, stopping 29 of 30 shots.
For a team that stressed playing with desperation now with just three games remaining in the regular season, the Islanders came out with some desperately-needed jump from the opening face-off, which was imperative to establish an early edge over a Lightning team that had played to a physical 6-3 loss on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
New York outshot Tampa 12-3 in the first period alone, but Lightning backup goalie Brian Elliott turned the early barrage away with relative ease.
“I thought we had pretty good energy tonight,” Nelson said. “Maybe we took advantage of a team that came off a back-to-back. It was tight in the first but I thought we followed it up with a good second.”
Pelech got the Islanders’ their deserved opener 3:46 into the second period when his wrister from the right point snuck through traffic and Elliott just seconds after Hudson Fasching couldn’t finish a wrap-around attempt in an open net.
Nelson doubled the Islanders’ lead with his 33rd goal of the season 9:54 into the second when defenseman Samuel Bolduc pinched in the Tampa zone, nabbed a turnover behind Elliott’s net, and found him alone in front for a slick one-timed finish.
He had gone the previous five games without scoring.
“That was a real good pinch on that play,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said of Bolduc’s assist. “He kept the puck alive and I thought he was pretty solid in terms of his physical ability and his battles in the offensive zone.”
The UBS Arena faithful weren’t done celebrating the goal when, just 49 seconds later, Palmieri made it 3-0 when he waited out the Lightning goalie while meandering from the top of the left circle to the right and snapped a wrister into the top corner of the net.
Nelson got his second point of that quick span with the primary helper on Palmieri’s 16th goal of the season.
“We just stuck with it,” Nelson said. “We did a pretty good job getting our chances.”
The Lightning got one back with 3:13 to go in the period when a Sebastian Aho turnover in the corner worked its way to Nikita Kucherov, who seared home his 30th goal of the season. But the Islanders found a quick reply when Ryan Pulock snapped home a wrister with just 19.7 seconds remaining.
“It’s tough to core in this league,” Pulock said of his fifth goal of the season. “When you can help the team and get a goal like that in a big moment, it feels good.”
The opportunity was created by a Palmieri cut to the net where he kept the puck on his backhand in an attempt to wait out a crowded defense in front of Elliott’s goal. After the puck squirted around the crease, Pierre Engvall won it and sent it to Nelson, who set it back for Pulock in between the dots.
“Brock was able to find me and he just made a good play through the guy’s stick,” Pulock said. “I was in a good spot and was able to get a shot off.”
Simon Holmstrom had an easy close-range finish off a pretty feed from Bo Horvat’s backhanded pass in front for his second tally in his last six games and his sixth of the season with 4:46 to go in the game.
Horvat himself picked up just his second goal in the last 16 games with 18.2 seconds remaining to put the exclamation point on the Isladners’ big night.
“It definitely feels good to put the puck in the back of the net and see it go in against a goalie,” Horvat, whose most recent goal was an empty netter against New Jersey, said. “It’s been a while so I think it’s good for the confidence and stuff like that.”