The exclamation point on Thursday's 4-3 OT win over Boston came when Anthony Beauvillier potted a Nick Leddy rebound 21 seconds into overtime, but the turning point came early in the second period.
Down 2-0, the Islanders were heading to a four-minute penalty kill, with Scott Mayfield, who averages a team-high 2:23 SH TOI/GP and has seen a team-high 80:51 SH TOI this season, sitting for high-sticking.
With the game likely on the line, the Islanders penalty kill stepped up, blocking three Bruins shots, with Semyon Varlamov stopping three more. Not only did the Islanders hold off the NHL's seventh-best power play on an extended kill, they scored immediately after, with Mayfield stepping out of the box and into a rush with Leo Komarov and JG Pageau. Instead of being down 3-0, it was 2-1 and the Islanders were officially on the path to a character win.
"Our penalty killers did a great job of keeping us in the game," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "I knew we were going to end up with a point tonight once we got that goal. If they get that third goal I don't know if we'd be sitting here tonight with any points."
Video: NYI@BOS: Pageau buries Mayfield's nifty feed
The Islanders penalty kill finished the game 3-for-4, but raised its level when it was needed most. That's been a bit of a theme for the Islanders this season, who have managed to kill off extended penalties.
On Jan. 26, the Islanders shorthanded unit killed off Leo Komarov's five-minute major with 9:01 to play in a 2-2 tie with the Washington Capitals. A last-minute loss negated the gutsy effort, but the Islanders held the Capitals - albeit without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson - to one shot and three shot attempts over the full five minutes. The Islanders got through the kill with Pageau winning a key defensive-zone draw vs Nicklas Backstrom, as well as timely blocks from Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech.
On March 18, the Islanders killed off Mathew Barzal's double-minor against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders hung tough against an active Flyers PP, which managed four shots on goal during the four minutes. The Islanders came up with a pair of key blocks with Mayfield and Pelech both grinding through a 1:40 shift in the d-zone. Mayfield briefly lost his stick, which put the Islanders down to a de facto five-on-three, but was able to recover.
"The first two minutes are important," Cal Clutterbuck said. "How many times you can clear the puck and get fresh legs on the ice is important. If you end up getting hemmed in for the first two minutes it makes it tough to roll over and gives the power play a little confidence. Clearing the puck when you get a chance and putting pressure on them early and not letting them get set up and get into a rhythm is a big thing for four-minute power plays. Four minutes on the game clock is a lot of time to give a power play... You need big plays and big saves."
Video: NYI vs PIT 3/27: Cal Clutterbuck
Five-on-three's have been another good area for the Islanders this season, who are 3-for-3 when down two men, killing off a total of 2:54 over that span. The Isles killed off a 1:17 two-man advantage against the Flyers on Jan. 31, a 1:13 stretch vs Pittsburgh on Feb. 18 and 24 seconds of five-on-three play vs New Jersey on March 2.
Only the Tampa Bay Lightning (5:32) have spent more time killing a five-on-three without surrendering a goal.
While the Islanders are tied for ninth in the NHL in PK percentage (82.4%), they've been able to come up with kills when doing so is the most difficult. For Trotz, it's reflective of being comfortable in uncomfortable situations, recognizing big moments and being battle-tested when the pressure is on.
"We've had a lot of close games over the last three years and have played a lot of playoff games," Trotz said. "They're more comfortable with it and understand there are pivotal moments where the game can get away from you or you can reel it back in. Fortunately we're able to reel it back in."