Five games vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. Five wins for the New York Islanders.
Anders Lee busted a 3-3 tie with a power-play goal at 5:23 of the third period, as the Islanders completed the season sweep of their Metropolitan Division rivals on Thursday, skating to a 4-3 win at Barclays Center. John Tavares picked up his 28th and 29th goals of the season in the win and also helped set up Lee’s winner.
“I give our guys a lot of credit,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “It was a gut-check win against a good team, they played hard, they came at us hard. We’re finding ways here right now. It’s about work ethic and the will to compete.”
With the win – their fourth in five games – the Islanders picked up a pair of key points in the Eastern Conference playoff race, re-establishing their four-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers and creating a six-point gap with the Detroit Red Wings. With the New York Rangers losing in Carolina on Thursday night, the Islanders currently sit two points back of their cross-town rivals with a game in hand.
“These were two points that we came in needing to get,” Lee said. “To pull it out in the third is really important. All of these other teams around us in the standings seem to be winning too. We have to take care of ourselves.”
Despite the Islanders carrying the play in the early goings – they outshot the Blue Jackets 15-2 in the first period – Brandon Dubinsky opened the scoring on Thursday night. A blocked point shot created a two-on-one rush for the Blue Jackets, with Dubinsky keeping, shooting and scoring on Thomas Greiss (21 saves) at 4:14.
The Islanders responded shortly after, as Tavares scored his first of the game on a two-on-one rush with Ryan Strome at 7:28.
The score remained tied for the next 10 minutes, but the Islanders struck for a pair of goals in 41 seconds, taking a 3-1 lead into the intermission. Hickey scored the first of the two, stepping into a slap shot from the point at 17:51, while Tavares potted a Nikolay Kulemin rebound for his second of the night at 18:32.
“I liked the way we responded after the goal against,” Tavares said. “We got three goals and the lead and had to make them work to get back in it.”
The Blue Jackets chipped away at the Islanders lead in the second period. Brandon Saad beat Greiss with a long-range wrist shot at 15:48, giving his team new life heading into the third. Columbus made the most of the momentum, as Boone Jenner scored 37 seconds into the third period, knotting the game 3-3.
“There are momentum swings in the game and obviously we didn’t want to give up the goal to tie it, but we stuck with it and got a big power-play goal and protected the lead after that,” Tavares said.
Five minutes later, the Islanders retook the lead, scoring a power-play goal for the second straight game. Johnny Boychuk’s slap shot kicked off the end boards and caromed off Anders Lee in front of the net before crossing the goal line. The play was set up by Tavares, who made a nifty, stick-between-the-legs pass to Frans Nielsen, who sent the puck to Boychuk.
“There was good power-play movement, we were able to keep the puck in and stretch them out a little bit,” Lee said. “Boychuk put a few hard shots towards the net and the last one there just missed and got a great bounce off the wall. It’s a bounce that I’ll humbly take.”
The Islanders didn’t come out of the game unscathed, as Travis Hamonic left the game in the first period after a knee-on-knee collision with Hartnell. He did not return and Capuano did not offer an update after the game.
The Islanders now turn their sights towards a key divisional matchup on Saturday, as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 1 p.m.