Brock Nelson’s third period goal gave the Islanders hope, but unlike the two games previous, they couldn’t get a point out of a late comeback, falling 4-2 to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
Nelson – returning to the lineup after sitting on Tuesday night – cut the Predators’ lead to one with his 23rd of the season. The Islanders’ forward skated in one-on-three, maneuvered the puck from his backhand to his forehand and snapped it past Pekka Rinne at 1:55, but that’s as close as they came. The Islanders only managed two shots in the third period and eventually Austin Watson’s empty-netter sealed it, halting the Islanders’ two-game point streak.
“We’re not getting a lot of offense right now,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “At the end of the day, it’s a collective effort from our guys and we’re going to need more.”
Despite the loss, Ryan Pulock had an unforgettable night Thursday, scoring his first NHL goal at 6:02 of the second period. He won’t forget where he was or how it went in – a seeing-eye wrist shot from the blue line, past a John Tavares screen and ultimately Pekka Rinne, tying the game 1-1.
“It had eyes and it found a way,” Pulock said. “When I first saw it go in I was obviously pretty excited and one I'm going to remember forever. It’s that first one and you can only score that first one, once.”
The Predators struck quickly after Pulock’s moment, scoring two goals in the next four minutes – what turned out to be the decisive sequence of the game. Ryan Ellis broke the 1-1 tie 2:11 later, beating Thomas Greiss (28 saves) with a slap shot on a Predators’ power play, minutes before Ryan Johansen kept and shot on a two-on-one rush, putting Nashvile up 3-1 halfway through the game.
The Islanders were in comeback mode for nearly the entire game Thursday, conceding the opening goal for a fourth straight contest. James Neal found the back of the net at 9:15 of the first period, finishing a centering feed from Calle Jarnkrok, as Nashville outshot the Islanders 12-6 in the opening frame.
“We have to try to be mentally ready right from the get-go and try to engage right off that first drop,” Nelson said. “There’s no excuse really, just try to come up and play hard right away and hopefully we find a way to do that.”
The Islanders were shorthanded on Thursday as Casey Cizikas and Mikhail Grabovski both missed the game with injuries. Cizikas (undisclosed) was a late scratch, while Grabovski (upper body) had already flown home to Long Island for further evaluation.
Cizikas and Grabovski’s injuries caused Capuano to shuffle his lines, notably putting Ryan Strome between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck
The Islanders’ loss Thursday was their rival's gain, as the Pittsburgh Penguins cut the Islanders’ lead in the standings to one point with a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. The Islanders still hold a game in hand over the Penguins.
The Islanders’ road trip continues Saturday night in Dallas, when they visit the Stars. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. eastern time.