UNIONDALE, N.Y.- In racing out to a four-goal lead on Monday afternoon, the New York Islanders provided reason to believe they're ready to end a five-year playoff drought and pursue the franchise's first postseason series victory in 19 seasons.
The Islanders also know they remain a work in progress, after an apparent rout turned into a nail-biting 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of an announced crowd of 15,322 at Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders scored three second-period goals, including two in a span of 1:12, and appeared well on their way to an easy win when David Ullstrom extended the lead to 4-0 less than two minutes into the third. But the Lightning mounted their second impressive third-period rally in as many games by scoring three goals over the next seven minutes.
"We can't have that," said Islanders left winger Matt Martin, who scored one of the second-period goals. "We were able to hang on and play solid for the last 10 minutes. A full 60 minutes is what we need to do, because if you don't have a four-goal lead, you're going to get burned."
The Islanders have been burned plenty over the last two decades. Only four current Islanders were in the organization when the team last made the playoffs in 2006-07. Franchise cornerstone John Tavares, who had two assists and earned first-star honors Monday, was not yet 3 years old in 1993, the last time the Islanders won a postseason series.
"We're sick of not making the playoffs - it's time for us to get in," Martin said. "It's time for all of us to contribute offensively and find some ways to win some games."
The Islanders got balance Monday, when Martin, Ullstrom, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo had a goal apiece. The Islanders outshot the Lightning 44-26 and took the 3-0 lead in the second thanks to offensive opportunities created by strong defensive play.
Mark Streit's pass from behind the Islanders' goal hit Grabner in stride as he closed in on Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback, whom Grabner beat with a shot into the upper left corner of the net. Martin's breakaway goal off Tavares' clearing pass from behind the Islanders' goal put the Islanders ahead 2-0 with 3:37 left in the second.
The Lightning responded with an immediate flurry, but Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov fended off Vincent Lacavalier's shot and the puck ricocheted down the ice to Okposo, who faked a pass to Tavares and fired the puck past Lindback.
The Lightning made things interesting in a hurry in the third. Martin St. Louis ended the shutout when he netted his third goal of the season just 51 seconds after Ullstrom's goal.
Benoit Pouliot tapped in a loose puck with 12:34 to play and the Lightning controlled the subsequent faceoff before Steven Stamkos, who led the NHL with 60 goals last season, scored amid a scrum to the left of Nabokov with exactly 12 minutes left.
The Lightning also scored three unanswered third-period goals in its 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals in the season opener Saturday.
"No lead is safe, and when you've got St. Louis and Stamkos and [Ryan] Malone, you know they're going to get their chances," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We contained them for 40 minutes. You're not going to contain them for 60. You know at some point they're going to get an opportunity. When they get it, it's usually in the back of your net."
Capuano called timeout after Stamkos' goal and the Islanders responded by tightening up on defense and regaining control on offense. Nate Thompson had the best chance to tie the score for the Lightning, but his shot from to the right of the crease bounced off Nabokov's pads with about 5:30 left.
"Made a few mistakes - we gave in a little too much, maybe, in the second period," Lecavalier said. "That made the difference."
Nabokov had 23 saves for the Islanders. Lindback had 40 saves in an impressive effort.
Notes: The game opened with a pair of fights on the opening faceoff. The Lightning's B.J. Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie traded blows with the Islanders' Martin and Joe Finley, respectively. All four players earned five-minute penalties. Then the Lightning's Malone and the Islanders' Colin McDonald shoved each other during the restart, which sent them to the penalty box for two minutes apiece. ... Lecavalier played in his 1,000th career game. Lecavalier, who has spent his entire 14-year career with the Lightning, is the 26th active player to appear in 1,000 games. ... Capuano returned to the Islanders bench after missing Saturday's opener with kidney stones. ... With their season-opening two-game homestand complete, the countdown has officially started on the Islanders' time left at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders, who have played at Nassau Coliseum since joining the NHL in 1972, announced in October they will move to Brooklyn's Barclays Center for the 2015-16 season.