The time for niceties is over.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano made that perfectly clear hours before his team took on the Lightning on Monday night. He called out specific players for lack of effort, something he’s avoided doing all season. But even though the Isles responded with a 5-2 win at Barclays Center — one more victory in their last four games will clinch a playoff berth — effort did little to compensate for a game full of big scares and big injuries.
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Calvin de Haan left in the second period and did not return after taking a puck to his right knee. Cal Clutterbuck took a stick to the face in a frightening second-period collision that left him incapable of leaving the ice under his own power (he returned in the third period). De Haan might not make the trip to Washington for Tuesday night’s game.
The injuries — the latest in a growing list that includes Travis Hamonic, Mikhail Grabovski and Jaroslav Halak — tempered a pumped-up showing by the Islanders, who were subjected to their coach’s ire during the morning skate.
“We need [Ryan] Strome to be better, we need Brock [Nelson] to be better, we need [Josh] Bailey to be better,” he told reporters. “We’ve struggled with a few guys for sure about their compete level and their work ethic, and it has to be better . . . You’re only letting your team down if you’re not going to compete at a high level, and the guys I mentioned earlier need to pick this [expletive] up and start playing.”
After the win, Nelson said of Capuano’s comments, “I don’t think you can ever be too complacent. It is what it is. You go out and play.”
Asked if the coach’s assessment was fair, he added: “Nothing is fair . . . You go out and play.”
Capuano said part of the decision to call out his players was because of his veterans, who are running out of chances to win a Stanley Cup. “The only reason I singled them out is because I care about them,” he said. “I care about them as people and I care about them as hockey players . . . It’s not that I’m calling them out and trying to embarrass them in front of anybody. We need those guys to play better.”
On Monday night, young blood was part of the answer. Starting for Brian Strait (rest), Ryan Pulock ignited the offense early, scoring the second goal of his career at 13:18 of the first period when Kyle Okposo’s shot deflected off his leg and got past Ben Bishop. The rookie further endeared himself to the fan base when he went toe-to-toe with Cedric Paquette after Paquette’s hit on Thomas Hickey.
But every positive seemed to beget yet another injury.
Midway through the first period, de Haan took a hard shot off the knee from Nikita Kucherov. He tried to get up under his own power and faltered, and though he eventually returned with about 4:20 left in the period, he left immediately after trying to skate.
De Haan returned to start the second period but went back to the locker room a few minutes in, shortly after getting beaten by Kucherov at center ice. Kucherov fed it to Alex Killorn, who waited for Thomas Greiss to commit before backhanding a goal to tie the score 2:08 into the second period.
The Islanders scored the next three goals in a span of 5:15 — by Matt Martin, Nelson and John Tavares (his 30th) — but not before another player fell.
With the Isles up 3-1, J.T. Brown high-sticked Clutterbuck, who crumpled against the boards and had to be escorted off the ice by Martin and Casey Cizikas. Clutterbuck, hanging his head, didn’t move his legs as his teammates skated him off.
Tavares, who also had two assists, scored 52 seconds after Nelson’s goal. Johnny Boychuk scored the only goal of the third period.
The Lightning failed to get any traction without Steven Stamkos, who underwent surgery for a blood clot near his right collarbone Monday. He is expected to be out one to three months.