Bolts host showdown with streaking Isles

( – The Tampa Bay Lightning hope to put the brakes on their
first losing streak of the season when they welcome the red-hot New York
Islanders for Saturday’s battle at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning had won a season-high six straight games before dropping two
straight against Chicago and San Jose.

Although Tampa was swept out of the playoffs by Montreal in four straight
games last spring, the club lost two in a row in the regular season for the
first time since dropping consecutive tests against Calgary and Dallas on
April 3 and 5 of last season.

The Bolts haven’t lost three straight since a five-game slide (0-3-2) from
March 2-10.

Tampa’s recent setbacks both came in one-goal losses. The Lightning lost 3-2
in Tuesday’s shootout defeat at Chicago and returned home to drop Thursday’s
2-1 decision against the Sharks.

Antti Niemi was the difference in Thursday’s contest, as the Sharks netminder
turned aside 32-of-33 shots to frustrate the high-scoring Bolts, who were held
to less than two goals for only the second time this season. Tampa also lost
2-1 in regulation against visiting New Jersey on Oct. 14.

Ben Bishop made 37 saves in the tough-luck loss and Steven Stamkos scored the
lone goal for the Lightning, who also suffered their first regulation defeat
since Oct. 25 in Minnesota.

Tampa Bay squandered a two-man advantage that lasted 1:10 early in the third
period, and the only offense the hosts mustered against the Sharks came with
10:26 remaining when Stamkos redirected a Andrej Sustr shot past Niemi.

“They’re a big, strong, fast team,” head coach Jon Cooper said of the Sharks.
“I think our desperation level for these couple have not been where we need
them, but for pretty much most of the year, we’ve had some pretty good starts.
So do I chalk this up to an aberration and maybe next game we’re flying?
Because this does happen in 82 games.”

Tampa dropped only its second regulation home test of the season and enters
Saturday with a 6-2-1 record as the hosts. The Lightning have claimed three of
their last five home games versus the Islanders, but New York has won four of
the past six encounters overall.

The Islanders, meanwhile, enter tonight on a five-game winning streak, the
club’s longest stretch of victories since a six-game run from Feb. 12-21,

New York also earned its fourth straight road victory on Friday night, as it
hung on to record a 4-3 shootout win over the Florida Panthers. The Isles led
2-1 after 40 minutes and grabbed a 3-1 cushion early in the third period
before allowing Florida to rally and push the game to overtime.

Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad notched the tying score for the Panthers with
2:35 left in regulation. However, Kyle Okposo scored the decisive shootout
goal to keep New York’s winning streak alive. The second New York shooter,
Okposo deked and slipped the puck past Roberto Luongo. Jaroslav Halak then
turned away bids from Jussi Jokinen and Brad Boyes to secure the extra point.

John Tavares, Ryan Strome and Nikolay Kulemin scored for the Islanders, who
tied a franchise record by winning 11 of their first 16 games to begin a

Halak, coming off consecutive shutouts, finished with 35 saves.

“We played a pretty good game until they scored that second goal with 10
minutes left,” said Halak. “We gave them hope to come back and unfortunately
for us they did.”

It’s unclear if Halak will start again on consecutive nights or if Chad
Johnson will get his first start in net since Nov. 6. Halak is 2-2-0 with a
2.80 GAA in four career games versus the Lightning, while Johnson has never
faced the Bolts.

Bishop is 3-2-1 with a 2.58 GAA in six career tests against the Isles.