They didn't let that bother them, and in the process cost the Jets a much-needed point with a 3-2 overtime victory at MTS Centre. Michael Grabner took a feed from Cal Clutterbuck, sped through the Winnipeg defense in the neutral zone and raced in alone to beat goaltender Ondrej Pavelec with 1:07 remaining in OT.
"Most guys know that this time of the year is a little difficult," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "I thought that we were focused. We were ready to play against a big, strong hockey team that is playing really well. The biggest thing for us is that our young kids played well. They got a chance to play a lot of minutes."
The Islanders began a Canadian road trip without captain John Tavares, who's gone for the season with a knee injury sustained at the Sochi Olympics. A few hours before game time, they traded top-four defenseman Andrew MacDonald to the Philadelphia Flyers for two draft picks, and they scratched forward Thomas Vanek in preparation for a possible trade Wednesday.
"I think we all know it's a business," said Capuano, who dressed Matt Carkner in MacDonald's spot.
Even without MacDonald, Tavares and Vanek, the Islanders carried the play for much of the game until the Jets tied the game at 2-2 with 5:07 left in regulation on the second of captain Andrew Ladd's two goals, a breakaway after a turnover by New York's Josh Bailey with the teams playing 4-on-4.
"Everybody was ready to go from the start," Grabner said. "We did a great job of focusing and not letting this stuff distract us."
The loss left the Jets with 67 points in the race for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. The Jets and Phoenix Coyotes are one point behind the Dallas Stars, who hold the second of two wild-card spots in the Western Conference.
"I think we understand that there are no easy games in this League for our group," Ladd said. "We're battling as hard as we can to pull out victories here. I think we'll take the positive of getting one point and move on.
Indeed, the Jets received some scoreboard help thanks to the Stars' 4-2 road loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Coyotes beat the Vancouver Canucks 1-0 and are ahead of the Jets in the standings because they've played one fewer game. The Canucks remain stuck at 66 points.
"They're still in the race, and it's nice to take at least one point away from them," Grabner said after scoring his 12th goal of the season and third in four games since the Olympic break. He had five goals in four games for Austria in Sochi.
Colin McDonald scored his fifth goal at 17:30 of the first period after Ladd had put the Jets ahead at 10:57. Rookie Anders Lee's third goal of the season on a breakaway early in the second period put the Islanders up 2-1.
The Jets lost second-line rookie center Mark Scheifele 11:18 into the second period after a collision with Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan. Scheifele left the game with an apparent lower-body injury and did not return. The Jets' medical staff will evaluate Scheifele on Wednesday morning.
Anders Nilsson gave veteran Evgeni Nabokov a night off and stopped 36 shots. Nilsson got the start after a poor showing Sunday in a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers; his performance repaid Capuano for the coach's faith in the 23-year-old goaltender.
"I'm very thankful to get a second chance to go in and play the game after," Nilsson said. "It was nice to bounce back for me personally and for the whole team to get the two points and the win."
Pavelec started his third consecutive game and made 24 saves.
The Jets' 24th-ranked power play continued its season-long struggles, going 0-for-5. The Islanders allowed five goals on 12 shorthanded situations in two losses this past weekend.
Ladd beat Nilsson on the Jets' fourth shot of the game. Center Bryan Little won a right-circle offensive-zone draw and worked the puck into the slot to Ladd, who snapped a shot low past Nilsson.
McDonald evened the score with 2:30 left in the period. Ryan Strome's shot caromed off the end boards to McDonald, who flicked the puck into the net before Pavelec could recover.
Lee, who made his season debut Feb. 27 against the Toronto Maple Leafs with a two-goal performance, put the Islanders ahead when he broke loose from the Winnipeg defense and skate in alone on Pavelec. Lee's first shot was stopped, but he swatted the rebound past Pavelec 1:33 into the second period.
MacDonald established himself as an NHL regular during the 2009-10 season after parts of four seasons in the American Hockey League and logged 295 games with the Islanders.
"I've been around Andrew a long time," Capuano said. "I've watched him grow in this League. He has been a great player for us, been a great team guy, and a great friend to a lot of guys. It's tough, the first game without him."
If Vanek does depart the Islanders on Wednesday, they will again need to regroup before meeting the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
"You kind of have to be in your own bubble," Nilsson said of the disruption of game-day trades. "You can't let that affect you. We still have job to do to go out there and play hockey, to play good hockey. You can't let that affect you, and I think everybody did a good job of that."
Coach Paul Maurice, who has led the Jets on an 11-3-2 run since replacing Claude Noel on Jan. 12, felt that his team was tight.
"Tonight would be an example of our brains going 100 miles an hour, and our feet not doing the same thing," Maurice said.
If Scheifele's injury is serious, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have some significant decisions to make Wednesday. After the deadline, a visit from the Los Angeles Kings awaits the Jets on Thursday. If the Jets were tight against the Islanders, the pressure only figures to intensify against the NHL's stingiest defense.
"Absolutely we're going to have to figure out how to handle the pressure," Maurice said. "We're doing that with a lot of other teams. It's part of the process."
"Dealing with that pressure down the stretch is what this is all about," Maurice added. "We have to bounce back and be a good hockey team in couple of days."
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