The New York Islanders signed Andrew Ladd for his ability to score in big moments.
Netting the game-winner in a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in a tight playoff race? Well, that counts.
"I think that's a pretty big goal," Interim Coach Doug Weight said of Ladd's go-ahead marker with 7:22 to play. "That's what he does, he finds areas and guys that score those goals, they're hard to come by."
Ladd and Anders Lee were both hovering around the net on a late Islanders power play, with Lee fighting off a check and backhanding the puck to Ladd out front. Ladd made no mistake, burying his 20th of the season, but the importance of the goals went far beyond borough bragging rights - the Isles have won seven of eight vs the Rangers - or the NBCSN national spotlight.
Video: NYI@NYR: Ladd finishes Lee's feed in front for PPG
The Islanders (80 points) desperately needed two points to keep pace in their playoff chase. The Isles started the day chasing Toronto, but after the Maple Leafs (83 points) beat Columbus and moved into third in the Atlantic Division, the Islanders now set their sights on the Boston Bruins (82 points). The Islanders and Bruins meet on Saturday at Barclays Center.
Video: Andrew Ladd joins the guys after Isles beat Rangers
"This is playoff hockey for us," Lee said. "There's no looking back, we can't take any game for granted and we have to get two points almost every night. You look around the league the teams in front of us are winning as well and that's what makes a game like tonight so important."
Video: NYI@NYR: Lee buries a rebound past Raanta
Lee and Mats Zuccarello scored goals 54 seconds apart to make it a 1-1 game early in the second period. Zuccarello opened the scoring on a Rangers power play at 2:46, finishing a cross-crease feed from Mika Zibanejad, while Lee banged in an Anthony Beauvillier rebound off the rush at 3:40.
The tie game didn't last, as Rick Nash worked the puck past Thomas Hickey for a breakaway corralling it and chipping a shot off Thomas Greiss' glove and in at 6:36.
The Islanders lived dangerously through the end of the period, but managed to get out a series of jams. Travis Hamonic misfired on a pass, but atoned after clearing a loose puck out of the crease. Jimmy Vesey nearly banked a wraparound in off Greiss that somehow managed to stay out and Greiss came up with a critical save off a Michael Grabner one-timer. Greiss finished the night with 34 saves and was key to the Isles holding off a late Rangers push.
Video: NYI@NYR: Greiss stones Grabner's shorthanded break
"Your goalie at this time of year has to be your best player and we have the confidence in him that when we have a breakdown he can come up with a big save and bail us out," Ladd said.
Down 2-1 heading into the third, the Islanders fought their way back into the game using their special teams. After being penalized five times in the first 41 minutes, the Islanders scored a pair of power-play goals on two consecutive man advantages. Nikolay Kulemin getting the last touch on a pinballing pass from Josh Ho-Sang at 5:01 tied it up and then Ladd buried Lee's backhand pass for the winner at 12:38
STROME LEAVES GAME:
While the Islanders picked up a big two points, they did not come out unscathed. Ryan Strome left the game after colliding with Brady Skeji in the second period and did not return. Weight said Strome would not play over the weekend.
The Islanders play a heated rival for the second time in as many games when they head to Pittsburgh on Friday night. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.