The Islanders have become adept at the classic bait-and-switch over the past month, dangling two points in front of their opponents by spotting them early leads, only to steal them back.
Twice in their last two games, the Islanders were down 3-1 to a Metropolitan Division opponent, but rallied for a come-from-behind victory. The back-to-back comebacks continued a trend for the surging Islanders, who have mounted comebacks in nine of their last 10 victories.
Early deficits are far from ideal, but having the resiliency to come back has given the Islanders new-found comfort in the seemingly uncomfortable situation.
“I guess we are getting used to it,” Thomas Vanek, who capped off the comeback Tuesday night against the Rangers, said. “A lot of our wins are come-from-behind. I think that’s what makes this team good. They are resilient guys. Right now we are finding ways to win.”
The Islanders now lead the league with seven wins when trailing after two periods. The NHL-leading stat emphasizes their never-say-die attitude and belief that sticking with the game plan through 60 minutes will pay off.
The team isn’t just rallying from early 1-0 deficits; the gut check wins have come from all sorts of perilous positions. They were down 0-3 to the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 29 just 23 minutes into the game, but roared back for a 5-4 win. Two nights later, they overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Boston Bruins in a 5-3 win. The Islanders also flipped the script on the Dallas Stars twice, erasing a pair of 2-0 holes for a 7-3 win at the Coliseum and a 4-2 victory in the rematch.
In total, the Islanders have overcome six two-goal deficits since Dec. 29, including five in regulation. To put it in perspective, the Islanders had only come back from two-goal holes four times – in regulation – in the prior six seasons.
We have a lot of character, so we are going to keep fighting, keep playing and take it one day at a time. - John Tavares
“During the last month and a half we’ve done a much better job in all three zones and battling through adversity when it’s been there,” captain John Tavares said. “Everyone is playing as a unit out there, from our goaltender out to our forwards, you can just tell that in all three zones the execution level is much better.”
One of the prime reasons for the turnaround is the Islanders ability to rise to the occasion in the third period, where they have outscored opponents 20-6 in their last 13 games.
“It comes down to the third period,” Thomas Hickey said. “If you win the third period, you win the game.”
The positive third-period goal differential has resulted from that timely execution Tavares referenced. They’ve gotten big stops and big goals when they’ve needed them most.
Defensively, players have sacrificed their bodies in the dying minutes to keep the puck out and the Islanders playoff hopes alive. That level of commitment, urgency and desperation was on display in their two most recent wins, as the Islanders held off relentless pressure late in the game.
“There's no formula or system,” Andrew MacDonald told Newsday. “You're just trying to sacrifice and keep the puck away from the net.”
|Thomas Hickey is congratulated after his goal on Tuesday night. |
The Islanders have also received timely goaltending late in games as the netminders have shut the door, instead of panicking when the team is down. Kevin Poulin has made several game saving stops during the comeback run, including his glove save on Ryan McDonagh Tuesday night, or his spectacular breakaway save on Cody McLeod in a 1-1 tie against the Avalanche on Dec. 10.
The comeback wins have done more than just raise morale on the island, as the Islanders have kept pace with and gained ground on the suddenly-hot Metro Division. While still on the outside of the playoff picture, the Islanders are as close as they have been in months and can make up more ground with wins in the division. As of Jan. 22, the Islanders are five points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the eastern conference, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“It’s disappointing the way we started, but we have a lot more to give and there’s a lot of hockey left to be played and a lot of pride in this room,” Tavares said. “We have a lot of character, so we are going to keep fighting, keep playing and take it one day at a time.”
If the Islanders can stay resilient and keep winning, a playoff berth would be the ultimate comeback story, capping off a season filled with late rallies.