UNIONDALE, New York — One season after finishing last in the Metropolitan Division, the new-look New York Islanders are challenging Pittsburgh for the top spot in the eight-team division. Protecting a third-period lead at home against surging Tampa Bay in their latest win was another sign of their improvement.
Cal Clutterbuck, Mikhail Grabovski and Ryan Strome scored in the second period to lift the Islanders to a 5-2 victory over the Lightning on Tuesday night.
Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas also scored and Jaroslav Halak stopped 26 shots for the Islanders, who got a measure of revenge for a 5-2 loss at Tampa on Saturday that snapped their five-game winning streak.
"We're doing many good things on the ice as a group," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "We wanted to wear them down and come out hard. We were able to do that very well tonight."
Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat scored for the Lightning and Evgeni Nabokov finished with 31 saves against his former team, which added six key new players in the offseason.
Clutterbuck tied the score at 1-1 with a short-handed goal 39 seconds into the middle period. Grabovski and Strome then scored 1:03 apart to give the Islanders a two-goal lead with 6 1/2 minutes to go in the period. Nelson's power-play goal in the opening minute of the third made it 4-1.
"We're showing that we can play with the top teams in this league," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Our guys are working hard and stepping up."
Killorn opened the scoring with 8:07 left in the first period with his fourth of the season, poking a loose puck past Halak after the Islanders had the better of play for most of the period.
Starting the second period with defenseman Thomas Hickey in the penalty box, Clutterbuck burst down the right wing and sent a shot past Nabokov for his second of the season.
"They moved the puck well and scored a big goal to give them a boost," Nabokov said.
Grabovski, who joined the Islanders as a free agent, put the Islanders ahead with 7:37 remaining in the period with his fourth goal on a pretty pass from Frans Nielsen before Strome recovered a blocked shot and scored just over a minute later.
After Nelson's goal at 36 seconds of the third, Palat finally answered for the Lightning at 2:14. However, Cizikas scored on a breakaway at 8:55 to seal New York's win.
"We played very well the last two periods," Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky said. "It's good to see get results for our efforts."
Nabokov started for the Islanders the past three seasons after a decade with the San Jose Sharks. He helped New York reach the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
The 39-year-old Nabokov looked strong early, making a flurry of saves as the Islanders had an early two-man advantage.
However, after Cizikas' goal, Nabokov bowed his head in frustration and skated slowly along the goal line. The Nassau Coliseum crowd chanted, "Nabby, Nabby" — as they often did in support of the goalie — after New York's final goal.
"The fans were always good to me here, though I think tonight they were chanting my name for the wrong reason," Nabokov said.
The Lightning, coming off a 5-1 win over the New York Rangers on Monday night when former Ranger captain scored twice in his return to Madison Square Garden, appeared weary playing their third game in four nights.
"They had to be tired playing back-to-back the way we were last week in Florida," said Halak, who replaced Nabokov this season and won for the eighth time. "When they did throw everything at us, we had the answers. We feel good about this win."
New York came into the rematch with the Lightning with 11 wins in 17 games, the most for the franchise since starting 12-4-1 in 1987-88. They face the Penguins in a home-and-home series starting Friday in Pittsburgh.
NOTES: The Islanders and Lightning meet again at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 20. ... The Lightning scratched forwards Brenden Morrow and Brett Connolly and defenseman Eric Brewer while the Islanders scratched spare defensemen Brian Strait and Matt Donovan and forward Cory Conacher.