Josh Bailey’s teammates often speak about how the Islanders’ winger does a lot of little things for the team. A stick-check here, good defensive coverage there; a timely clear or a good play along the wall, things that not every fan sees, or appreciates.
On Tuesday night, despite a tough 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bailey’s teammates got to see him appreciated by the crowd at Barclays Center, scoring a pair of goals in his return to the lineup from an upper-body injury.
“He was flying,” said John Tavares. “You could see some of those days off helped. Real good form and was able to get healthy and get some rest. Probably was our best forward out there. Really made a lot happen.”
Bailey was on track to be one of the heroes on Tuesday night, putting the Islanders up 1-0 and later 3-2. At the start, Bailey actually did something that had only happened once over the Islanders’ first eight playoff games — he put the Isles up 1-0.
The game’s first score came 7:55 into the first period with Bailey pouncing onto a puck that had been poked into some open space by Nikolay Kulemin. All alone in front of the net, he flipped it past Tampa goalie Ben Bishop for his first goal since March 14.
“He was ready to play,” said coach Jack Capuano. “He gave us a huge lift tonight. I thought he played really well tonight, got us a couple of big goals. I was really happy and pleased with the way Josh played.”
With the game tied at 2-2 going into the third period, Bailey put the Islanders back up 3-2 just 2:27 in.
The Islanders and Lightning were skating 4-on-4 before a Casey Cizikas penalty ended, leaving the Islanders with a brief power play. They didn’t take long.
On the rush up the ice, Bailey dove toward the net and scored off a feed from Thomas Hickey back along the boards for his second score of the game.
“It’s always nice,” said Bailey of the goals. “Certainly it would feel a lot better if we got the win. That’s really all that matters at this point.”
For a team-first guy like the tenured Bailey – who’s eight years of service to the Islanders rank third behind Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo – his contributions often are about more than individual stats.
“He’s probably the guy with the biggest hockey IQ in here,” said Nielsen. “I think a lot of guys don’t see it up in the stands, but the small plays he makes all the time on the wall, smart, little plays which make it fun to play with him.”
Bailey’s big night was another sign of growing production from outside Tavares’ first line, something that was missing late in the first-round series against Florida. In the Game 1 win against Tampa, Shane Prince scored twice and Cal Clutterbuck added another. In Game 3, Clutterbuck got on the board again, and Bailey broke through in a big way.
“I know what Josh’s capabilities are,” said Capuano. “It doesn’t surprise me that he scored two goals. You just look at his stats year-in and year-out, he produces. And he’s reliable defensively. It doesn’t surprise me that he came in there and gave us a boost. That’s what veteran guys do.”