The New York Islanders moved a step closer to their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since 2007 and pushed the Philadelphia Flyers closer to their first playoff-free season in six years.
Michael Grabner scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves as the Islanders defeated the Flyers 4-1 on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum to move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
John Tavares added an insurance goal with 1:37 left, and Casey Cizikas hit the empty net 28 seconds later for the Islanders (20-16-4), who have 44 points. That's two more than the eighth-place New York Rangers, who have a game in hand, and the Winnipeg Jets -- and four ahead of the New Jersey Devils.
Matt Moulson also scored for the Islanders, who've won four in a row at home.
The Islanders' late run toward a playoff berth has led to an unaccustomed dose of scoreboard-watching on Long Island.
"I think it's almost impossible to avoid them," Tavares said when asked if he watches the scores of other games. "You see them on TV every morning when we get into the room, and obviously we see the other games going on. But I think we've done a great job of staying focused and staying composed, understanding that we control what's going forward with us."
The Islanders have gotten a boost from the play of Nabokov. Since March 24, he has stopped 146 of 158 shots, a .924 save percentage, going 6-1-1 with one shutout.
"We played like we wanted it more -- I think that's why we got the two points," Nabokov said. "Everything is positive right now, but you can't get carried away because you know that it's such a fight for the playoffs with eight games left. You can find yourself very quickly the other way. You just want to keep the focus and intensity at the same level, win or lose."
The Islanders snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Flyers at the Coliseum and improved to 7-1-1 in their past nine games overall.
Jakub Voracek scored the goal for the Flyers (17-19-3), who remained 13th in the East, five points out of eighth place. Goaltender Steve Mason, acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets, made 28 saves.
"We have to win a lot of games in a row now," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We need to come together as a team and we know we can do it. It’s about putting the work in -- the hours -- and actually doing it right.
"We’re a good team. Maybe the standings aren’t showing it, but we’re a good team who can play against any team in the League … but we have to find a way to play better."
Asked if the Flyers need a miracle to make the playoffs, forward Scott Hartnell answered succinctly: "Probably."
After a cautious first few minutes by both teams, the Flyers capitalized on a defensive breakdown to grab a 1-0 lead. Voracek got behind the New York defense, took a 120-foot pass from Giroux and went in alone on Nabokov. His backhander sat under Nabokov's pads, but Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald slid into his goaltender, carrying the puck over the goal line at 6:28. It was Voracek's team-high 17th of the season and came on the Flyers' second shot on goal.
Moulson tied it just over nine minutes later on a nice three-way passing play by the Islanders' first line. Tavares took a hit in his own zone to get the puck to Brad Boyes, who carried into the Philadelphia zone on a 2-on-2 rush. Flyers defenseman Bruno Gervais cheated slightly toward Boyes, who slipped a pass to a briefly unguarded Moulson for a quick wrister past Mason at 15:36. It was Moulson's 13th of the season.
"Boyes made the play. I just got it out and took a hit," Tavares said. "I think this is stuff that more and more myself and everybody just understanding that we have to make some sacrifices.
"It got us going a little bit. Sometimes the simple plays are the plays that are going to make things happen. I just tried to make the safe play"
Chances were few through the first 15 minutes of the second period before Mason made his best save of the night, stopping Kyle Okposo's breakaway backhander. But that seemed to inspire the Islanders, who picked up their play and were rewarded at 17:42 when Colin McDonald's pass from the right boards found Grabner in the slot. He used defenseman Luke Schenn as a screen and rifled a 20-footer past Mason for his 13th of the season to give New York its first lead.
"I never saw it," Mason said.
The Islanders stayed aggressive in the third period, outshooting the Flyers 11-8, and put the game away when Tavares and Moulson went in 2-on-1. Mason stopped Tavares' shot, but defenseman Eric Gustafsson's desperate slide to keep Moulson away from the rebound put the puck into the net instead, giving Tavares his 24th goal of the season.
The crowd of 13,888 made itself felt as the third period went on, chanting "We want the playoffs!" and "Last-place Flyers!"
"They're passionate," Tavares said of the Nassau Coliseum faithful. "You can see it in the building. When we started to generate some momentum throughout the game, and especially in the third period, they got loud. They pushed us and created a great atmosphere. We want to make our building a tough place to play in and they're part of that. They make it difficult as much as we do."
Material from team media was used in this report