The NHL’s best and hottest team visited Barclays Center on Sunday night and got punched, punched and punched again.
Less than five minutes into the first period, the Islanders were leading the Lightning by three goals and held their own the rest of the way behind goalie Thomas Greiss in a game they believed would be a test of where they stood.
They passed with flying colors, winning 5-1 and handing the Lightning just their second regulation loss in their past 21 games.
Both teams were playing the second half of a back-to-back, but the Islanders (25-15-4) didn’t show it. They came out buzzing, taking a 3-0 lead just 4:43 into the game to bounce back loudly after losing to the Rangers 2-1 Saturday afternoon. They improved to 6-0 in the second half of back-to-backs this season.
The Lightning (35-9-2), who beat the Sabres on Saturday night in Buffalo, entered the night boasting an 18-1-1 mark over their past 20 games. Their 75 points through 45 games had them on pace to finish with 131 points — one shy of the Canadiens’ NHL record set in 1976-77 — but they were stifled by Greiss and the Islanders.
After Robin Lehner had started six of the Islanders’ previous seven games, Greiss got back in net and was nearly perfect, stopping 38-of-39 shots for the win.
Taking on the league’s most dangerous power play, the Islanders put themselves at risk by taking three penalties, but they killed off all three with Greiss aiding the cause.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper pulled Andrei Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker for about five of the final 10 minutes of the third period — starting with a short stint with 9:47 left — before Josh Bailey converted an empty-netter with 52 seconds to go.
After going 0-for-6 on the power play Saturday, the Islanders converted on their first chance at a man-advantage Sunday at 1:21. From behind the end line, Jordan Eberle sent a pass into the slot for Brock Nelson, who flung a wrister by Vasilevskiy for the 1-0 lead.
The Islanders’ fourth line was responsible for the next goal as Casey Cizikas got it started with a steal in the offensive zone. He sent the puck to Matt Martin, who set up Cal Clutterbuck for a one-timer that hit off Vasilevskiy and trickled across the line to make it 2-0 at 4:27.
Just 16 seconds later, Devon Toews took a pass from fellow rookie Michael Dal Colle just inside the blue line and ripped a shot that found a way through to go up 3-0. It was the defenseman’s third goal in just 10 NHL games.
The Lightning came out looking like more of a threat in the second period, outshooting the Islanders 9-1 seven minutes in and controlling the play. But the Islanders steadied themselves and then added to their lead when Cizikas took a cross-ice pass from Martin and finished it off to make it 4-0 at 11:03.
Former Ranger Ryan McDonagh broke Greiss’ shutout bid with 1:48 left in the second, making sure the Lightning would not be blanked for the first time this season.