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Unsung Islanders Play Key Role in Win over Rangers

Stephen Gionta, Nikolay Kulemin and Scott Mayfield contribute in 4-2 win

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

Thursday's Islanders-Rangers tilt was a blue-collar game and it was the Islanders' unsung, blue-collar players that played a key role in the 4-2 win.

Stephen Gionta's forecheck, Nikolay Kulemin's penalty killing and Scott Mayfield's simple steady play were all key contributions - along with a driven performance from John Tavares. 

"Those guys are playing their roles fantastically," Anders Lee said. "Those guys sacrifice their bodies in penalty kills and are playing a role that's a little unsung. You always love seeing those guys contribute on the board, it's huge that they did tonight, that's why we won." 

No one personified the unsung role more than Gionta, the undersized, but pesky grinder who doesn't get in the lineup often, but promises to be energetic thorn when he's in. Playing in his seventh game of the season, Gionta used all of his 5'7 frame to knock Marc Staal off the puck behind the net, before dishing a feed to Andrew Ladd for the bang-bang goal, putting the Isles up 2-1 at 6:24.

Video: NYR@NYI: Gionta steals puck, sets up Ladd in the slot

"He's one of those guys that everybody in this room gravitates to and appreciates his work ethic day in and day out," said Ladd. "He's taken the hard way to get to this league and doesn't take any day for granted. Whenever guys like him get in the lineup and play as well as he's playing I think everyone's pretty happy for him."

Gionta, 33, signed a professional tryout with the Islanders during training camp, but an injury kept him off the ice for the first two months of the season. His first game was on Jan. 16 against the Boston Bruins. 

"The organization has been great," Gionta said. "Right from the start they've taken care of me from the injury on and I'm just happy to be back out with the guys and contributing." 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: #Isles lead the Rangers 2-1 after ���������! #LGI pic.twitter.com/jRJNmw5IpH

Like Gionta, Mayfield was another Islander who hadn't found a secure spot in the lineup, but made a contribution on Thursday night. Mayfield started the sequence that led to the Islanders' first goal, keeping the puck in the zone, dishing down the wall to John Tavares, who fed Josh Bailey who sent a puck to Lee. 

Mayfield also made a key defensive play in the second period, breaking up a chance for Matt Puempel. 

Kulemin, who is one of the Islanders' most-used penalty-killing forwards, wound up scoring the game-winner, pinning the Rangers in their defensive zone before finishing a feed from Tavares. 

Video: NYR@NYI: Tavares, Kulemin connect for SHG

"To say that was a relentless shift by those two would be an understatement," Interim Coach Doug Weight said.

Kulemin averages 1:55 shorthanded time on ice per game - third most on the team - and 13:50 total - 16th overall. He saw 3:15 SH/TOI on Thursday against the Rangers, doing some heavy lifting for the Isles on the PK - a contribution in it's own right.

"We need contributions from everybody to have success," Tavares said. "Over a long season, guys stepping in game in and game out, whether that's a making play that leads to a goal, or a goal being scored, or just doing a good job in different areas, blocking a shot, taking a hit to make a play, being physical, all of those things.

WATCH: CIZIKAS AND GIONTA ON NHL NETWORK:

Video: Gionta and Cizikas talk Islanders and Doug Weight

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