Sunday night was a return to Islander hockey - and a welcome one at that.
The Isles beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 at Xcel Energy Center, returning to their defensively-structured, four-line roots to snap a three-game winless streak.
Ryan Pulock, Matt Martin and Tom Kuhnhackl scored third period goals, as the Isles rallied out of a 1-0 hole in the final frame. As important as the two points were in the suddenly-tight Metropolitan Division, a return to the Isles defensive identity felt even more necessary after allowing 24 goals in the previous five games.
"The last couple of weeks when things weren't going our way we started to get away from what we do best," Martin said. "[We'd] get away from our structure and haven't been playing as well defensively because we're trying to chase offense… Tonight we were trailing most of the game and still stuck with solid defensive hockey. We felt good about our game through two and felt like if we stuck with it, something would give and thankfully it did."
Video: Islanders ride three-goal third period to victory
ISLES RALLY IN THIRD PERIOD:
Chances were slim for both teams on Sunday evening and Ryan Donato's first-period goal seemed to loom large as the Isles started the third period down 1-0.
But the Isles stayed patient and with two strikes 1:37 apart completely changed the complexion of Sunday's low-scoring affair.
Pulock put the Islanders on the board at 4:24, as his wrister found its way through traffic and trickled through Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (25 saves) - a goal that felt like poetic justice for Donato's first-period poke through Semyon Varlamov's (25 saves) in a goalmouth scramble.
That notched the game 1-1, but Martin followed it up with the eventual winner at 6:01, finishing a cross-ice feed from Leo Komarov, who willed a backhanded pass across the zone while simultaneously sliding into the corner.
For Martin, the goal and point were his first since Oct. 25 a span of 17 games.
"We just stuck with it tonight," Martin said. "When things aren't going well you always seem to be trailing in games, but we didn't deviate from our plan, we didn't deviate from who we are as a team. We were able to get one early and then obviously getting two more. Huge win for us."
Video: NYI@MIN: Martin scores off Komarov's great feed
Kuhnhackl extended the Islanders lead to 3-1 17:29, collecting a loose puck off an offensive-zone face-off and snapping it past Dubnyk. The goal - which effectively iced the game - was Kuhnhackl's first of the season.
"The last couple of games when something didn't go our way, we kind of fatigued on the bench," Kuhnhackl said. "Throughout a game, good things are going to happen, but you always have to stay positive and stick to your game plan. Tonight we did a good job of that."
Head Coach Barry Trotz said getting contributions from Kuhnhackl, Martin and Komarov were a deciding factor in Sunday's win.
"It was huge. We haven't had a lot of that this year, so our margin of error has been even less than maybe last year," Trotz said. "We spread it out and let everybody go and just said you know, play the right way, everybody can play in the league and if you do it right, we have each other's backs."
Video: NYI@MIN: Kuhnhackl pads lead for Islanders
Trotz did a wholesale line shuffle ahead of Sunday's game. Komarov drew back into the lineup, replacing Michael Dal Colle, while all four lines saw changes.
Kuhnhackl played on the top line alongside Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee - a combination Trotz had used last season - while the Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Derick Brassard trio was reunited. Josh Bailey shifted from wing to center, playing between Ross Johnston and Jordan Eberle, while Komarov joined Martin and Casey Cizikas.
The Islanders wrap up a three-game road trip, the 2019 calendar year and the decade with a matinee game in Washington DC on New Years Eve. Puck drop is at 1 p.m.