TAMPA — During his morning session with the media on Thursday, Jon Cooper eluded to the difficulties involved when facing the New York Islanders.
By the end of a 2-1 shootout loss, Cooper sounded like a prophet forecasting the night’s outcome.
Both teams locked down defensively and in what looked like a statistical anomaly - both teams had 30 shots on goal, registered 21 hits, split the faceoffs 50/50 and traded power play goals - that came down to a roll of the dice in a shootout decided on Frans Nielsen’s lone conversion to give New York the extra point in a more grind-it-out style of game that tends to show up this time of year.
“We played a solid defensive game . . it was an even game and it was probably fitting it came down to a shootout, but I’m not going to fault our guys, I thought they played hard,’’ Cooper said.
The setback extended Tampa Bay’s winless stretch at home to four games (0-2-2), though the point picked up for getting to overtime kept the Lightning a point behind Boston - which beat Dallas - for the Atlantic Division lead.
Ben Bishop finished with 29 saves, marking 11 consecutive starts in which he has allowed fewer than three goals. Marty St. Louis had a first-period power play goal to provide the only goal for Tampa Bay.
New York goaltender Kevin Poulin also made 29 saves and stopped all three Lightning attempts in the shootout while Thomas Vanek scored a late second-period goal for the Islanders, his 25th career goal in 35 games all-time against Tampa Bay.
New York has proven to be a difficult team for Tampa Bay to play the past few years, and the Islanders’ 4-0-1 record against the Lightning shows that, because they are a team than can match Tampa Bay’s team speed.
“They are a fast team they throw a lot of pucks at you and when you turn and get in a puck race they have some guys that can fly,’’ said St. Louis, who extended his scoring streak to six games. “I thought both teams traded chances and it could have gone either way.’’
The teams played to a draw through two periods, with St. Louis finding an open net to shoot in at 5:45 of the first when Tyler Johnson’s attempted pass for Valtteri Filppula at the top of the crease fluttered off Filppula’s stick right to St. Louis. Vanek tied it up, also on a bit of a broken play, five seconds into a power play chance when both Nate Thompson and J.T. Brown lost their footing off the faceoff, setting up a 2-on-1 down low. That allowed Nielsen to slide a pass over to an open Vanek who pushed the puck past a diving Bishop with 1:38 left in the second period.
The Lightning made a push in the third, controlling the puck for good portions of the final period of regulation and creating quality scoring chances while outshooting New York 8-3 in the final frame. But there were also a few too many good shooting opportunities passed up for lower percentage plays.
“We had our chances to put them away and we didn’t,’’ Bishop said. “Their goalie played all right (but) we’ve got to put them away when we have the chance. We let them hang in there. They score a goal there late in the second, and we have chances in the third, but we can’t score. I thought we played a pretty good game, but we’ve got to learn to put teams away.
“We had a lot of chances and missed the net, we let their goalie get a break by not shooting so it’s tough when you only score one goal.’’
Though Cooper mentioned the number of shots passed up in the third period, he liked a lot of what he saw on Thursday against a team that has given Tampa Bay fits in recent meetings.
“I thought we played pretty well tonight,’’ Cooper said. “If we are going to play like that every single night at home, we are going to win some games. Their goaltender played, ours played well. We gave up one goal and you should get points out of that, if not win the game . . . we get one point, we didn’t get the two, and that’s the tough part, but I can’t sit here and say we didn’t play well.’’
After the game, rookie defenseman Andrej Sustr was reassigned to Syracuse of the American Hockey League.