The New York Islanders got their groove back on Saturday night, skating to a 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils in their final home game of the regular season at Nassau Coliseum.
Brock Nelson (2G), Jordan Eberle, Kyle Palmieri and Mathew Barzal scored for the Islanders, who snapped out of a three-game winless skid with a decisive win. Andreas Johnsson scored the lone goal for the Devils. Ilya Sorokin stopped 23 shots in the win, while Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 22 in the loss.
The win wrapped up the Islanders home slate for the regular season with a 21-4-3 record through 28 games, their best home record through 28 games in the Post-Cup era. With the win, the Islanders improved to 877-629-169-63 all-time at the Coliseum.
"We wanted to finish off in the win column for this building," Eberle said. "It's got a lot of history behind it, a lot of teams, obviously some Cups won here. It's tough without all of the fans in the building but it's always good to send the regular season off with a win.
With Saturday's win, the Islanders (70 points) are one point back of the Boston Bruins (71 points) for third place in the East Division. The Islanders and Bruins play each other on Monday night and the Bruins wrap up their season on Tuesday vs Washington.
The Islanders would need to beat Boston on Monday and have the Bruins lose to the Capitals on Tuesday to finish in third place. If the Islanders finish fourth, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one, as the Penguins clinched first place with a 1-0 win over Buffalo on Saturday afternoon.
"We weren't expecting it, but anything can happen in this league," Eberle said of the chance to finish third. "You just want to continue to put as many points as you can up and see where you lie… We're expecting to get a good team no matter what, whether it's Boston, Washington or Pittsburgh, so all three good teams and it doesn't really matter you'll have your hands full no matter what."
Trotz said he'd like to finish in third to potentially get home ice in the second round.
GET RIGHT GAME:
Saturday served as sort of a get-right game for the Islanders, who entered the contest on a three-game winless streak (0-2-1) against the bottom two teams in the East Division.
"It's a step, it goes towards our veteran group," Head Coach Barry Trotz said of the bounce-back effort. "We said we'd worry about our own game and we did that and we practiced that way yesterday with a lot of purpose."
The Islanders started strong, outshooting the Devils 12-4 in the opening frame, taking a 1-0 lead into the intermission on Eberle's 16th of the season. The Islanders, who after resting various players over three games had gone back to a lineup that resembled the one in their wins over the Rangers, looked in sync, hemming the Devils for some extended zone time.
New Jersey briefly tied the score in the second stanza, as Andreas Johnsson roofed a feed from Matt Tennyson past Ilya Sorokin at 4:58, but the Islanders regained control of game in the latter half of the period.
Nelson re-established the Islanders lead at 9:00, sweeping in an Oliver Wahlstrom rebound for a power-play goal. That was the first of Nelson's two tallies and he followed up in similar fashion, knocking in an Anthony Beauvillier rebound 3:40 later at 12:40.
That set up the Islanders up with a 3-1 cushion heading into the third, but instead of sitting back, the Isles floored it, scoring a pair of goals 37 seconds apart to open up a 5-1 advantage. Palmieri made it 4-1 with a goal against his former team, hustling to catch up to a Wahlstrom lob pass before pulling a forehand-backhand deke in tight on Blackwood at 3:32. The goal was Palmieri's second as an Islander and Trotz praised his aggressive, crash-the-net style play, which was also evident in Palmieri barreling into Blackwood on his goal.
"I loved the way he played today," Trotz said. "What I saw today is the Kyle Palmieri that I've seen as an opposing coach. I love when he plays with a little bit of an edge. He was skating, he battled and I thought he had a lot of detail to his game. He played quick. I thought he got rewarded by going hard to the net. That's one of the reasons that we got him. When he plays that game, which is more of a playoff style type of game, he can have an effect on the result. I thought he was really good today."
Barzal made it 5-1 shortly after, keeping, shooting and scoring on a two-on-on rush with Eberle at 4:09. The goal was Barzal's 16th of the season and third in his last five games. Trotz said he felt his team got a little loose after going up 5-1, which helped lead to New Jersey outshooting the Islanders 13-4 in the final frame.
Despite the Devils pressure in the third, the Isles outshot them 27-24 on the night. With the win, the Islanders also won the season series 6-2-0 against the Devils.
Nelson netted a pair of goals on Saturday night, his 17th and 18th of the season, to maintain his team lead.
Both goals were the result of Nelson posting up in front of the net, utilizing his size to knock in rebounds. He was alone in front to sweep Wahlstrom's rebound on the power play and was again in the right spot to knock in a loose puck for his second of the game.
"What Barry has been stressing is a guy at the net," Nelson said. "Five on five a little bit more late, try to get some traffic and second opportunities. It's not always going to be pretty, but we'll be happy to take them if you get an opportunity close."
Saturday also marked Nelson's 300th-consecutive game, third all-time on the franchise's ironman list. Nelson can tie Bobby Nystrom for second on Monday night.
After two games apart due to various players resting, Barzal, Eberle and Leo Komarov were reunited on Saturday night and all hit the scoresheet in the win, combining for five points (2G, 3A) as a line.
Eberle scored his 16th goal of the season on Saturday night, briefly tying Brock Nelson for a share of the team lead.
The Islanders winger converted at 18:01 of the first period, crisscrossing with Barzal on a rush into the Devils' zone, before beating Mackenzie Blackwood with a snapshot high short side. The rush was started by a good play from Komarov on the wall in the Isles' zone.
Barzal found the scoresheet in the third period, with Komarov picking up his second assist on the night. Both Barzal (third star) and Komarov (second star) were named stars of the game.
Eberle, Komarov and Andy Greene returned to the lineup, taking out Cal Clutterbuck, Ross Johnston and Braydon Coburn, respectively. Travis Zajac skated in Clutterbuck's spot on the Identity Line, while Eberle and Komarov were reunited with Mathew Barzal.
The Islanders wrap up the 2020-21 regular season on Monday night in Boston. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.