DETROIT - The next time the Islanders take a decent lead into the third period, they will have a good memory to lean on. Yes, they will be ahead of the game, and that won't be their worst nightmare anymore.
Only two days removed from their most recent heartache, the latest excruciating experience of turning leads into losses, they put themselves right back in the fire with three solid first-period goals against the Red Wings Monday night at Joe Louis Arena. If they told you they weren't thinking about having coughed up a two-goal advantage to the Ducks at home Saturday, they'd be lying to you and kidding themselves.
"It doesn't matter who you are, it creeps in. When you lose a couple of heartbreaks, it automatically creeps in. But you have to break those habits," Evgeni Nabokov said after recording 23 saves to preserve a 3-0 victory that made the Islanders proud that they didn't worry that the roof was going to fall in again.
After Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Casey Cizikas scored in the first 16:55, the Islanders played solidly. They played with the kind of resolve they often showed last season, when they not only finished games well but finished the schedule with a rush that got them into the playoffs. If they are to make a run again this season, they will have to master the art of going forward rather than just trying to hang on.
"We just have to be confident in our abilities," said Matt Martin, whose pass from behind the goal line set up Cizikas in front on the night coach Jack Capuano reunited last season's successful fourth line by putting Colin McDonald back in the lineup. "We've struggled in closing out games and I do think a lot of that is because we sat back and almost hit the panic button a little bit instead of playing the way that's been successful."
That was the secret of this game in their favorite locale (the Islanders haven't lost in Detroit in 10 years). Instead of trying anything fancy or heroic, they focused on doing what they usually do. The scoring plays were true Islanders goals: Lots of movement, and fast.
First, there was Thomas Hickey clearing to Thomas Vanek, who fed John Tavares, whose speed created a two-on-one that resulted in Okposo's 12th goal at 10:57. Little more than four minutes later, Grabner scored his third goal in a three-game span (after a long drought) off a neat feed from Josh Bailey. He ripped a shot over the left shoulder of goalie Petr Mrazek. Cizikas' goal began with a hustle play by McDonald, who had been a healthy scratch for four games.
After all of that, the Islanders kept playing instead of merely hoping to avoid a collapse.
"We've proven before we can close out games," Tavares said. "Why can't we just keep playing the way we're playing and have no panic even when things go wrong?"
For a day, Capuano got a reprieve from having to explain what went horribly wrong. "You guys talk about it all the time, about our third periods and the leads we've blown," he told reporters. "There's a certain way we play. We just have to stay focused and play that way."
Sometimes it helps to have a little motivation from heartbreak, too. As Cizikas said: "We came out with the mind- set, 'We're not going to give this one away. We're going to do whatever it takes to get the two points.' "