The hero of the Islanders 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins did not make it to the end of the game.
Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 31-of-32 shots in the win, left the game with 4:22 to play after stretching awkwardly late in the third period. Thomas Greiss played the role of closer, coming in cold and stopping the final three shots – with the help of a big kick save from Travis Hamonic – as the Islanders picked up a crucial two points in the standings.
“We don’t have an update and hopefully we’ll know a little bit more here tonight where he stands,” Jack Capuano said. “We were resilient at the end against a real good hockey team.”
Anders Lee broke the 1-1 deadlock with 11:05 to play in the third period, deflecting Nick Leddy’s point shot through Marc-Andre Fleury’s five-hole.
The game winner didn’t come easy, as Lee took a few big whacks from Kris Letang in a heated battle in front of the net, but it characterized the spirit of the entire game.
“It was a little playoff-like hockey out there,” said Frans Nielsen, who had a pair of assists Tuesday. “It wasn’t pretty. It was a simple game out there.”
A critical two points was on the line and both teams knew how high the stakes were. For the Islanders, a chance to climb the playoff ladder and push the Penguins down a few rungs. For the Penguins, a chance to close the Islanders’ lead in the standings to one point. After 60 minutes, the Islanders got exactly what they needed and left the arena with a five-point lead over the Penguins.
“We knew it was an important game,” said John Tavares who opened the scoring with his 24th goal of the season. “We’re fighting to get home ice and keep climbing up the standings. Each point is crucial, each game is crucial.”
The game started with a frantic pace, as both teams came out of the gate swinging. Halak – sporting his goalie pads from the 2014-15 season – was sharp from the get-go, lunging across his net to stop Phil Kessel on a two-on-one with Evgeni Malkin in the opening minute.
“He was great for us,” Nielsen said. “Right off the bat Kessel had that one back door on the first shift. That wouldn’t have been fun, being down by one in the first minute. He had some big saves. It wasn’t fun to see him go down like that and hopefully he’s not out for long.”
If he is, the Islanders are in good hands with Greiss, as German goaltender is 18-6-3 this season, with a 2.21 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.
“He’s played great,” Tavares said. “He’s come in and been huge for us. We have three great goalies. [JF Berube] has a lot of potential. He hasn’t seen a lot of action, but when he’s been in there too, he’s been stellar. We’re in a position of strength there. We’re confident in all three.”
Tavares opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 8:04 of the first period – one of two goals with the man advantage. The captain wound up at the top of the circle and ripped a slap shot far side on Marc-Andre Fleury.
Letang answered for the Penguins just over five minutes later, beating Halak up high from the bottom of the circle. After that, both Halak and Fleury – 25 saves – held the forts for their respective teams, until Lee’s deflection midway through the third.
The Islanders, who just completed a season-high seven-game road trip, head back out on the road, as they face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.