The Jets managed to force overtime when Bryan Little scored on a power play with 2:01 remaining in regulation, but John Tavares scored the deciding goal in the shootout to give the Islanders a 5-4 victory at MTS Centre.
Neither club has reached the postseason since 2007, but they staged playoff-caliber hockey in a game that closed the Jets' 5-0-1 homestand and extended the Islanders' winning streak to three.
"That's a good team," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the Jets, who outhit the visitors 43-14. "That's one of the best teams we've played all year. It was loud. It was a great atmosphere, and it's was one of the quickest games that I've been involved in, so it was a track meet, for sure."
New York's Brad Boyes and Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd exchanged shootout goals before Tavares beat Pavelec through the pads to give the Islanders their 14th win in 21 road games. The Islanders are 8-0-2 in their past 10 and were happy to escape Winnipeg with two more points.
"We've just got to make sure that we stay focused, we enjoy this one and we move on to Carolina (where the Islanders play the Hurricanes on Tuesday)," Capuano said.
The loss has the Jets at 49 points and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, where they have been anchored for much of April, unable to make up ground despite taking 11 of 12 points at home. They sit one point behind the eighth-place New York Rangers, who have played one fewer game.
"Our goal was probably 10 [of 12] points," Wellwood said of the Jets' homestand, "and it's unfortunate that all the teams we're chasing are winning. That's been the main struggle for our team."
The Islanders, who are closing out the regular season on a five-game road trip, moved past the Ottawa Senators into sixth place, where they are tied at 53 points with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ottawa played Toronto on Saturday night.
"At this point in the season, you want to get all the points you can," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "There is going to be a lot of movement by the end of the season, even though it's three games away. We're [fighting off] Ottawa, we're chasing Toronto, and we're trying to keep those teams that are behind us, behind us."
"We're not just going to be happy if we do get in," Hamonic continued. "We want to get in with the highest seed possible."
Unlike the Islanders, Senators and Rangers, the Jets have a pair of paths to the playoffs. If they can overtake the Washington Capitals, who played the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday night, the Jets would win the Southeast Division title and claim home ice in the first round. In lieu of conquering Washington, the Jets can target the Senators or Rangers for a playoff berth.
With the Islanders trying to close out a late 4-3 lead, created by Grabner's goal with 10:47 to play, the visitors ran into trouble. Lubomir Visnovsky's interference minor with 2:08 left in regulation gave the Jets a power play. Coach Claude Noel pulled Pavelec for a sixth skater, and Little needed seven seconds to stuff a rebound past Nabokov. Over the course of the match, the Jets overcame three Islanders leads.
"We were playing to get the two points," Little said. "We were playing desperate. It was a desperate move and it worked out."
Little acknowledged that seeing Pavelec on the bench with so much time remaining surprised him, but Noel said the Jets' predicament guided his choice.
"We [knew] the magnitude and what was going on," Noel said. "We wanted to tie the game. A point is better than none, there's no doubt about that."
Despite how badly the Jets needed a two-point afternoon, Noel did not see the effort as a point lost.
"I think it's a point gained for me," Noel said. "We chased the game. It was a difficult game to play.
"We could have had no points. We got one, so move forward and let's try to win the next game. We're not doing the math. We're just trying to win."
The Islanders' second line of Bailey, Nielsen and Kyle Okposo tormented the Jets early, with Nielsen and Bogosian exchanging first-period scores. Ladd assisted on Bogosian's goal and extended his scoring streak to a career-high seven games.
Then, 1:28 after Bogosian's goal, Bailey and Okposo combined to give New York another one-goal lead. Martin's goal midway through the second period put the Jets down by two.
The Islanders' well-rounded offense pleased Capuano.
"Last year and a few years [before], we were a one-line team with [the Tavares] line," Capuano said. "But we're starting to believe in how we need to play offensively. What we do with the puck, how we play with the puck, how we play without the puck. It's leading to our offense. Right now, we're going to need the guys to continue to contribute for us to be successful."
Kyle Wellwood answered for Winnipeg 40 seconds after Martin's goal. Wellwood's second of the game (his first two-goal game since April 1, 2010) came 2:57 later and tied the game 3-3. Grant Clitsome's long outlet pass reached Wellwood at the Islanders' blue line. He settled the puck, outraced Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey, and beat Nabokov glove-side at 13:24.
Midway through the third period, Grabner's 16th of the season broke a 3-3 tie. Colin McDonald scooped a puck out of the right corner and centered it into Pavelec's crease, where Grabner stuffed it and temporarily quieted what had been a rambunctious Winnipeg crowd.
"I think we knew coming into this game, it was going to be [a playoff atmosphere]," Tavares said. "Obviously a very passionate fan base, with a lot on the line. In the last week of the season, every win is big, and where both teams are sitting in the standings, we knew what kind of game it was going to be like [with] a lot of momentum back both ways, and we were happy we were able to pull it out after squandering a couple of leads."