The New York Islanders did themselves two favors with a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
The Islanders continued to climb the ladder towards the playoffs banking their 88th and 89th points of the season (on a night where both Washington and Pittsburgh won) - and simultaneously dealt the Canadiens (81 points) playoff push a body blow, keeping them on the outside looking in.
Anders Lee broke a 1-1 tie with 2:57 to play in the third period, finishing a beautiful feed from Mathew Barzal through Jeff Petry's legs that the captain buried after patiently corralling the puck. Two goals was all the Islanders needed on a night where Thomas Greiss (33 saves) outdueled Carey Price (36 saves), in another close-checking, testy game in the run-up to the postseason.
"We played smart and sort of waited for our chance," Head Coach Barry Trotz said of the Isles patient and poised play.
It was the second straight game the Isles felt they'd played to their identity, keeping the score low and the chances against minimal. They peppered Price from the drop of the puck, but didn't get discouraged when the future hall of famer (Trotz's words) kept them at bay. When the Canadiens inevitably pushed, the Isles were buoyed by a second straight stellar performance from the unflinching Greiss, who only allowed a Jordie Benn's screened point shot that deflected off a body in front late in the second period.
"These are the types of games we're going to see for the rest of the year," Lee said. "Even earlier in the season we seemed to be in one-goal games. For the most part, we're used to it. We've settled in. These are the tight games you've got to have."
Video: Lee's late goal propels Islanders to 2-1 win
PELECH PERFORMS AT BOTH ENDS OF THE ICE:
For the fourth time in five games, the New York Islanders got a goal from their defensemen, as Adam Pelech opened the scoring at 1:20 of the second period, snapping a loose puck past a screened Price.
The goal only encapsulated part of Pelech's contribution to Thursday's win. The defenseman was in peak form for the Isles, recording a season-high five shots, a goal, as well as coming up with a key block on a Max Domi one-timer during a Canadiens power play in the third period.
"Pelly was outstanding," Trotz said. "He's continued to play firm in the defensive zone and is jumping up at the right times and playing with confidence. He's a lot different player than at the start of the year."
With his fifth tally of the season, a career-high, Pelech tied Devon Toews for second among Isles defensemen in goals. Pelech has 17 points (5G, 12A) in 66 games this season, only two points shy of his career-high in points (19) set last season.
Video: MTL@NYI: Pelech buries rebound to kick off scoring
"I really think my game has been starting to come around in the last couple of months," Pelech said. "Especially playing with Ryan, it makes the game easy for me. Things are going well and hopefully they can continue."
Pelech has been on an upward trajectory since being a healthy scratch on Jan. 12, upping his physicality and playing with more firmness. Trotz has liked the player Pelech has developed into over the past two months.
"It's fantastic for us and it's fantastic for him," Trotz said. "He's finding that next level of player that a player can be… Why settle for good if you can be great."
The Islanders head out on the road for a weekend back-to-back set against the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild, starting in Detroit on Saturday night.