The New York Islanders have been chasing a playoff spot all season. For one night, at least, they own one.
The Islanders, who haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006-07, jumped into eighth place in the Eastern Conference race by beating the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday.
The Islanders have 39 points, two more than the New York Rangers, though the Rangers have two games in hand. They are even in points with the seventh-place New Jersey Devils, who have one game in hand.
"There's a long way to go," said center Frans Nielsen, whose power-play goal with 28 seconds remaining in the second period broke a 2-2 tie. "There are still a lot of points up for grabs. You have to play for it. It's fun where we are in the standings right now, but there's still a lot of work to do."
Matt Moulson ended a 13-game goal drought and added some insurance at the 18-minute mark of the third period when he finished off John Tavares' pass on a 2-on-1 break. Tavares added an empty-netter to wrap up the win.
Rookie Anders Lee and Colin McDonald also scored for New York, while rookie goaltender Kevin Poulin made 23 saves for his first NHL victory since Feb. 12, 2012. It was the first victory in six decisions this season by any goaltender other than Evgeni Nabokov, who got the night off after beating New Jersey, as well as the Islanders' first victory in six tries this season in the second game of a back-to-back.
"Our goalie made some big saves when we needed him to," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
Pavelec stopped 34 shots for Winnipeg, which came to Long Island after a 4-2 loss to the Rangers in New York on Monday and has dropped a season-high four games in a row.
"We didn't play well either night," Pavelec said. "We have to figure out something soon."
Though the Jets (14-14-2) have fewer points than the Islanders, they own the third seed because they are first in the Southeast Division, two points ahead of Washington.
"It's frustrating, for sure," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said of his team's slide. "You're not happy as a group. You can say all you want or talk all you want, but we as a group have to figure out a way to get out of this hole and get going the right way.
"As individuals, we have to figure out how to get to that next level. Getting close is not good enough."
Lee, the newest Islander, opened the scoring at 16:13 by beating Pavelec on his first NHL shot. Lee came down left wing, used defenseman Tobias Enstrom as a screen and wristed a shot that Pavelec barely moved on. Lee, a college star at Notre Dame, signed with the Islanders on Monday after his school's season ended.
"I was just trying to get the puck to the net, especially in the first period," said Lee, New York's sixth-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. "I was so surprised. I just threw it on net, it happened to go in, and the boys came to congratulate me. It was pretty awesome. My head was spinning at that point. If it wasn't enough to be playing in my first game, that was really exciting."
The lead didn't last long. Ladd drove down right wing, got to the net and fired a quick shot that Poulin stopped. But the rebound popped into the slot, where Paul Postma grabbed it and fired a quick shot over the goaltender's glove at 18:06.
The Islanders dominated the early stages of the second period, but when the Jets finally got a shot, they went ahead 2-1. Postma, who entered the game with one goal in 29 NHL games, scored his second in less than 10 minutes of playing time when he went to the net and tapped home a perfect feed by Chris Thorburn.
New York kept buzzing and got even at 9:56 when McDonald picked up the deflection of Mark Streit's slapper from the left point and put it through Pavelec's legs. Michael Grabner got a tip on Streit's shot and it came right to McDonald, who buried his seventh of the season.
Evander Kane's hooking penalty with 1:59 remaining in the period gave the Islanders their only power play of the night -- and they took advantage when Nielsen set up in the right circle and hammered home the rebound of Streit's shot for his fourth goal of the season.
"We got pucks to the net and that was the big thing," Capuano said. "After two periods we had close to 30 shots, and that's the one thing that we wanted to try to accomplish tonight. At the other end, we talked before the game about how their [defense] creates a lot of offense for them, and I thought we took away their second wave."
Material from team media was used in this report.