WINNIPEG – The New York Islanders snagged the two-point prize in a battle of clubs struggling to remain players in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Islanders took a 3-1 decision against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night at the MTS Centre, thanks to P.A. Parenteau's goal 1:36 into the third period broke a 1-1 tie.
Parenteau scored his 12th of the season when he cruised into the slot and deflected Milan Jurcina's slap pass from the right half-wall. Then with the Jets attempting to stage one final push, Parenteau put the win away when chased down a clearing pass before feeding Matt Martin for an empty-netter with 52.7 seconds left.
"It was a great overall team effort tonight," Parenteau said, "and that is what we're going to need down the road."
In winning their fourth consecutive road date, the Islanders (24-24-8) moved into 11th place and are two points behind the Jets with a pair of games in hand on Winnipeg. New York has earned at least one point in 10 of their past 13 contests in mounting a second-half charge toward a playoff spot.
And, thanks to Toronto's 5-1 loss at Calgary, the Isles moved within six points of the Maple Leafs for the eighth and final playoff spot. New York will enter Thursday's battle at St. Louis with two games in hand on Toronto.
"It's games like tonight that we're going to have to win," Isles defenseman Andrew MacDonald said.
The Jets (26-26-6) squandered a chance to pull within a point of the ninth-place Washington Capitals and apply further pressure to the struggling Maple Leafs, who sit in eighth place with 62 points. But the Jets' chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs by taking the Southeast Division also are quickly dissolving, with the Florida Panthers ahead by seven points with three games in hand.
"It's going to be a tough hill to climb here," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "To me, this is going to be the true test of the character we have."
Evgeni Nabokov delivered another strong performance in stopping 37 Winnipeg shots. Chris Thorburn's late in a 16-shot first period for the Jets was the only blemish on Nabokov's night. After surrendering eight goals at Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec responded with a 22-save effort that included a handful of excellent stops, especially early in the game.
"[Teamwork is] always the key," Nabokov said in crediting his teammates. "It always has to work together."
The Islanders continue to excel on the penalty kill and shut down all three Winnipeg power plays. Dating back to Dec. 26, the Islanders have now killed off 45 of the past 49 opposing man advantages.
"When your special teams does its job, especially this time of year, you're generally going to have success," Isles coach Jack Capuano said.
Winnipeg's power-play woes continue to sink their chances. The Jets are 5-for-45 on the man-advantage over their past 17 games.
"The power play really demoralized us again," Noel said. "That really seems to be the story of late. It's not working. We're not executing. The bothersome thing for me is that the best players aren't even executing passes that are simple plays."
A mostly quiet first period ended in a 1-0 Winnipeg lead when Thorburn and Jim Slater separated the Islanders from the puck deep in the right corner. Slater flipped a shot on net that Nabokov kicked back into the slot, where Thorburn backhanded a shot into the net for his third of the season.
Aside from the Thorburn goal, Nabokov held the Islanders in the game during heavy first-period pressure from the Jets.
"He made some key saves," Capuano said. "That's what great goalies do – they give you a chance to win the game, and he definitely did that for us tonight."
The Islanders responded at 3:55 of the second period on their only power play of the night. Matt Moulson picked a clearing pass out of midair near the blue line, fed John Tavares and took a return pass before beating a screened Pavelec from the high slot for his 25th of the season.
"That's what we need to do," Parenteau said of the Islanders, who averaged only 2.3 goals entering the game. "We need to be poised with the puck. We need to be confident. We don't score that many goals, but we're going to need to score more down the road, and being poised is part [of the process]."
The Isles went ahead when Brian Rolston dug out a puck behind the net and fed Jurcina at the right point. The big defenseman walked down the right wall before hitting Parenteau's stick for a perfect deflection and a 2-1 lead.
"When they scored to make it 2-1," Noel said, "I sensed that we didn't have a lot of life and energy. And that to me was of concern."
MacDonald, a key part of the visiting penalty kill all evening, fully admits that he is keeping a close eye on the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
"It's kind of hard not to [look]," MacDonald acknowledged. "One night, you're 11th. The next night, you're 14th. It's so tight back there that you can't help but look and see how other teams are doing. It's good for us to keep an eye on it and realize that we're right there and we're not that far back."
The Jets head out of Winnipeg on Wednesday for a date with the Minnesota Wild before returning home to begin an eight-game homestand against the Boston Bruins.
"It gets pretty tough to to get back in, especially with the three-point games that we have around the League lately," Jets winger Tanner Glass said. "It's definitely something of a concern, but at the same time, you can't focus too much on that. [We] just got to worry about the next [game]."