Khabibulin made 33 saves for his second straight shutout at Nassau Coliseum, and St. Louis’ third goal in two games pushed the Tampa Bay Lightning within one victory of the second round with a 3-0 win Wednesday night over the Islanders.
“He’s just shutting the door,” said Lightning forward Fredrik Modin, who had a goal and an assist.
St. Louis’ short-handed goal in the first period set the tone for the fourth straight 3-0 game in the series. The flashy forward had an NHL-best 94 points this season and led the league with eight short-handed goals and 11 short-handed points.
“We are getting better and better as the playoffs go on,” forward Tim Taylor said.
Ruslan Fedotenko also scored, and Brad Richards had two assists for the Lightning, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-1. They can advance to the second round for the second straight year and second time ever with a home victory Friday.
Should the Islanders win, Game 6 will be back on Long Island on Saturday.
“This was a must win for them,” St. Louis said. “We knew they were going to empty the tank and we have to empty the tank ourselves, and more. You don’t want to give them a chance, you don’t want to give them any breathing area.”
Khabibulin got his third shutout of the series. He’s been unbeatable at Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders won 25 home games—tops in the Eastern Conference.
“Winning that game on Monday was big and to back it up tonight, it’s even bigger,” St. Louis said. “Monday means nothing if you don’t back it up.”
But the Islanders, who won three of four regular-season games against the top-seeded Lightning, not only couldn’t win at home, they couldn’t score.
“We’re making it too easy for Tampa, we’re wasting energy on ourselves,” Islanders captain Michael Peca said. “Everybody has to have commitment, and if they don’t, I’ll be the first one to get in their face and tell them how disappointed I am.”
New York hasn’t scored since Jason Blake sealed the Game 2 victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
St. Louis was held without a point in the first two games, when the teams split victories at Tampa Bay. But he had two goals Monday and took the steam out of the crowd again Wednesday when he turned an Islanders power play into a 1-0 lead for the Lightning.
“That was a big goal,” said St. Louis, who scored 38 in the regular season. “I’m happy not just to strip him but to finish the play as well.”
The fans had been in a frenzy as the Islanders controlled play in the period. They even got to cheer tough guy Steve Webb, back in the lineup for the first time since Game 1 with the hopes his energetic play would provide a spark.
But all the Islanders had to show for a period in which the outshot the Lightning 12-6 was a deficit.
Shawn Bates had a couple of scoring chances that fizzled quickly, one in the first when a shot dribbled off his stick that broke on contact, and another drive that was blocked in the second.
Richards nearly gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead midway through the second, but he hit the post when he came in on a two-on-one. Given another chance late in the period, Richards decided to pass across to Fedotenko, who slammed a shot past DiPietro.
Just 1:34 into the third, St. Louis dropped a pass for Modin, who blasted in his third goal of the series. Tampa Bay finished with 20 shots and was outshot for the fourth straight game.
“They’ve been outshooting us, but I still think that we’re outchancingthem,” Taylor said.
The last time a series began with four shutouts was in 2002, in a series between Ottawa and Philadelphia. …. Lightning D Jassen Cullimore didn’t play after being injured in the second period Monday. He was replaced by Nolan Pratt, making his first appearance in the series. … A series hadn’t had four consecutive games with the same score since Buffalo and Montreal played to 4-3 decisions in 1993. … C Cliff Ronning was scratched to make room for Webb. … Tampa Bay LW Cory Stillman sustained a lower body injury on his first shift and didn’t return. … The Islanders had never been shut out three times in aseries.