TAMPA — After five-plus seasons, Tyler Johnson knows what to expect from Nikita Kucherov, even if Kucherov was a late-game addition to his line. The two combined for the winning goal against the Islanders on Thursday with less than two minutes to play.
"I've played with 'Kuch' enough that I felt like it was coming on me," Johnson said after the 4-2 win at Amalie Arena. "He made a heck of a play right through the guy, and luckily I was right there."
The game seemed to be rolling toward overtime until that goal with 1:26 to play.
The goal came after Kucherov, who had been playing in his usual spot with Steven Stamkos and J.T. Miller, subbed in with Johnson and Yanni Gourde when Brayden Point went to the bench with his helmet off to be tended to. Johnson said the team has enough chemistry overall that it didn't change anything.
"But it was an offensive zone draw, and (Kucherov) has played a lot of games with 'Johnny,' and he has been out there with Gourde," coach Jon Cooper said. "There's a big group of guys who have played together before. So it is pretty easy to put them out there."
The Lightning (12-3-1) believed it gained momentum by killing an extended five-on-three to start the third. It was 48 seconds of five-on-three, and the Islanders pressed so much that the Lightning couldn't change when the first penalty, to Dan Girardi for interference, expired. When Girardi got out of the box, he got stuck on the ice as the third defenseman.
"It's not pretty, but guys are sacrificing their bodies with guys who can really shoot the puck up there," Miller said. "The bench got a really big lift when that last puck went out of play (on the kill). I think from there, we stared to tilt the ice and played really well."
Even given that the Islanders tied it later in the period, Cooper felt that kill was the reason his team won.
The Islanders' Josh Bailey got the scoring started in the first. Anton Stralman, then Gourde did their best to tie Bailey up in the slot, but he found the puck in their skates and got it through both of them and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
It was the sixth time in the past seven games the Lightning gave up the first goal, the fifth time the goal came inside the first five minutes.
Rookie Mathieu Joseph tied the score 5:58 into the second with his first goal in front of the home crowd. Lightning fans erupted after Joseph's shot got through defenseman Scott Mayfield's legs and past goalie Robin Lehner.
"Obviously it's fun to score at home with the fans and everything, for sure," Joseph said. "The atmosphere was great. Scoring my first goal at home is definitely a good feeling, but I think in general, we just tried to execute the details out there and play a good game."
Miller put the Lightning on top midway through the second. He landed a one-timer off a no-look pass from Mikhail Sergachev at 11:12.
The lead didn't last, however. Bailey struck again midway through the third. A loose puck dribbled through the crease. Coming from the post to the slot, none of the Lightning players could corral it, and Bailey pounced.
"We didn't have our best game, but we did just enough," Johnson said. "Next game we have to be a lot better."
Though there are things Cooper would have liked to have seen go differently, such as the Islanders dominating time of possession in the first period, he was quick to praise his team.
"If you consider you have to dominate a team for it to be your best game, I don't know," Cooper said. "This group (played) its 16th game. They played pretty well. Have we been perfect, no, but name a team that has been. It hasn't been a roller-coaster ride."
First Period—1, N.Y. Islanders, Bailey 4 (Nelson), 3:40. Penalties—Leddy, NYI, (hooking), 4:04; Tampa Bay bench, served by Miller (too many men on the ice), 5:03; Komarov, NYI, (holding), 8:56; Koekkoek, TB, (interference), 17:57.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Joseph 2 (Killorn, Stralman), 5:58. 3, Tampa Bay, Miller 5 (Sergachev, Stamkos), 11:12. Penalties—Lee, NYI, (slashing), 11:33; Girardi, TB, (interference), 18:47; Paquette, TB, (slashing), 20:00.
Third Period—4, N.Y. Islanders, Bailey 5 (Barzal, Pelech), 8:43. 5, Tampa Bay, Johnson 6 (Kucherov, Gourde), 18:34. 6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 6 (Miller, McDonagh), 19:50. Penalties—Johnson, TB, (high sticking), 3:32; Eberle, NYI, (hooking), 10:35. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 16-10-11—37. Tampa Bay 7-11-9—27. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 0 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Lehner 4-3-1 (26 shots-23 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 9-2-1 (37-35). A—19,092 (19,092).