New York Islanders right wing Michael Grabner (40), of Austria, moves the puck past Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier (4) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 22, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O\'Meara)
TAMPA, Fla. - The New York Islanders have been out of the playoff picture for a while. It just hasn't appeared that way during the final stretch of the regular season.
Al Montoya made 36 saves Tuesday night, helping New York to a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay. The Islanders clinched the season series, winning for the third time in four games against the Lightning, who are almost certainly headed for the playoffs.
"For us to come in here against a team that is jockeying for playoff position, with the talent that they have up front, and win, I'm pretty proud of the effort that they put forth tonight," New York coach Jack Capuano said.
Nate Thompson put Tampa Bay ahead 61 seconds in, lifting a rebound past Montoya.
Undaunted, the Islanders scored four straight goals before Thompson helped set up a goal by Dominic Moore with the Lightning holding a two-man advantage midway through the third period.
"Our goal was to come in here and play our best game," Montoya said. "I give it to our team, though. They fought for me and they battled. They didn't let them knock us down, and that just motivated me to play harder. It feels great right now."
Josh Bailey scored first for New York with 10 seconds left on a power play midway through the opening period, depositing a rebound off a shot by Milan Jurcina.
The Islanders took the lead when Kyle Okposo redirected another shot by Jurcina past former teammate Dwayne Roloson at 5:16 of the second. Matt Martin made it 3-1 with a backhander at the 13:39 mark.
Teammates Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner sandwiched Moore's score with a pair of short-handed goals in the third period, the latter into an empty net with 46 seconds to go.
Roloson was the winning goalie for the Islanders when the teams last met Dec. 22. He was traded to the Lightning on New Year's Day.
"We go out and we compete hard for 60 minutes and try to have fun," said Nielsen, who leads the league with six short-handed goals. "Everybody is chipping in for the team right now."
Tampa Bay has struggled offensively en route to nine losses in 11 games this month, exceeding two goals only three times during that stretch.
"This is one of those things where it's not going our way, but we have to make it go our way," Thompson said. "These are times where you have to stick together and bounce back because no one is going to feel sorry for us, and no one is going to wait for us."
Notes: Grabner's late goal gave him six in the last nine games. ... Tampa Bay D Mattias Ohlund played in his 900th game. ... New York is 24-14-6 with Jurcina playing and 5-19-6 without him. ... The Lightning signed former Ferris State University G Pat Nagle, an undrafted free agent, to a two-year entry level contract. ... New York is 14-6-5 since the All-Star break and 6-1-4 in March.