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Johnson's 37 saves lead Islanders past Hurricanes

by Kurt Dusterberg / NHL.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Chad Johnson made 37 saves and the New York Islanders extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division with a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Tuesday.

Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Michael Grabner and John Tavares scored for the Islanders (38-19-1), who are four points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers.

Johnson, who has struggled during his brief tenure with New York after winning 17 games with the Boston Bruins last season, put forth arguably his strongest performance for the Islanders, one night after they lost an emotional game against the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum.

"Last year I evolved into that guy and established myself as at least a backup," Johnson said. "Obviously, my main goal is to eventually be a starter somewhere, but it takes time and some luck sometimes. Being able to be in some more games down the stretch here is going to keep me sharp, and hopefully the team will benefit and (Jaroslav Halak) will benefit from being more rested as well."

The Islanders got the scoring underway late in the opening period on the first power-play of the game. With John-Michael Liles off for holding, Lee followed his own redirection by slipping a backhand shot under Anton Khodobin at 17:06. With his 19th goal, Lee tied Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg for second among rookies.

New York extended the lead to 2-0 on Nelson's 16th of the season at 6:58 of the second period. After taking Matt Martin's pass from behind the goal line, Nelson beat Khudobin between the blocker and the body.

It was Nelson's first goal since Jan. 4, a span of 19 games. But he also had something positive to draw on, having scored three goals against the Hurricanes (20-29-7) in a season-opening home-and-home series.

"It's been a while since we played them, but at the same time, you kind of remember those," he said. "You've got to play hard, whether you get your opportunities or not and just try to help the team win."

With the two-goal lead, the Islanders called on Johnson to come up big in the second. He denied Eric Staal and Andrej Nestrasil at the doorstep before using his blocker to stop Justin Faulk from the slot.

"I thought he played extremely well tonight," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He's one of those guys who hasn't played a lot for us. When he was called upon, he made some key saves at key moments."

In the third, Thomas Hickey's chip up the boards sent Grabner in alone behind the Carolina defense, and he flipped the puck past Khudobin's glove for his sixth of the season at 7:09. Grabner was back in the lineup after missing five games because of an upper-body injury.

"In the first it was a little tough getting my legs back, but I got a chance early and that gives you some momentum," said Grabner, referring to his first-period breakaway that was turned away by Khudobin. "I just want to put it behind me, hopefully stay healthy and get my game where it needs to be to get in the lineup."

The Hurricanes broke up Johnson's shutout bid when Eric Staal fed Jiri Tlusty at the top of the crease for his 13th goal at 11:14.

With the Carolina goaltender pulled for an extra skater, Johnson made one of his best saves on Nestrasil in the low slot. The rebound came to Tavares, who sent the puck the length of the ice into the empty net to seal the win. It was Tavares' 28th goal of the season and fourth in his past three games.

The Islanders continued an impressive trend of winning on the second night of back-to-back sets, extending their record to 8-2.

"Overall, after an emotional loss last night in Long Island against the Rangers, I like the way we came back tonight and played a good Carolina team," Capuano said.

"We've got some legs because we're a young team. We skate, we play fast. Our special teams have also been good in those games too."

The Hurricanes have lost three of four after starting 2015 with a 9-3-3 record.

"There's not a whole bunch of concern, to be honest with you," Carolina coach Bill Peters said. "There some guys that probably needed to play better and wanted to play better that didn't. But every night you learn a little bit about your group."

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