Islanders cut magic number to three points with win over Jets

Islanders' Frans Nielsen celebrates his goal against Winnipeg Islanders' Frans Nielsen celebrates his goal against Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec during the first period. (April 20, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- It was fast, it was loud and it was nasty.

And it was another win for the Islanders, who are close enough to taste their first playoff berth in six years. Not the prettiest one they've had on their 11-1-2 run, but the 5-4 shootout win over the Jets on Saturday at a packed MTS Centre was another step toward the postseason.

"For us, it feels like we've been in the playoffs for the last month and a half," said Michael Grabner, whose goal off a feed from Colin McDonald with 10:47 left in the third gave the Isles a 4-3 lead. "Every point is important because they're all tight games. We managed to come out with the two points we needed."

The Jets rallied to tie with 2:01 left in the third when Bryan Little banged home a loose puck on a power play, and with Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec pulled for a sixth attacker. It was the third time the Isles allowed the Jets to tie the wild, sometimes woolly game.

Both teams had chances to end it in overtime, which would have been important -- regulation and overtime wins count as the first tiebreaker, but shootout wins do not.

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Lubomir Visnovsky went down in the crease to make a save with Evgeni Nabokov out of position, and Pavelec got just enough of John Tavares' shot off a two-on-one break to keep it square.

But it was Tavares who scored the deciding goal in the third round of the shootout, giving the Islanders 18 of a possible 20 points (8-0-2) in their last 10 games.

Their magic number to clinch a playoff berth is three points. The Jets' single point moved them within one of the eighth-place Rangers, but they need to beat the Sabres on Monday to keep the Islanders within sight. Otherwise, the Isles could clinch Tuesday night in Raleigh, N.C., against the Hurricanes.

"We still haven't clinched anything and we've still got a lot of work left to do," said Tavares, who was held off the scoresheet. "We have to keep working hard, keep our focus."

That focus wavered a bit after Matt Martin snapped home a feed from Jesse Joensuu to give the Isles a 3-1 lead at 9:47 of the second.

Kyle Wellwood got wide open to Nabokov's left to knock home a rebound 40 seconds later. Then Wellwood scored on a breakaway at 13:24 to even things up.

The game took a bit of a gonzo turn near the end of the second. Kyle Okposo, who had two assists and played with plenty of grit, challenged Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian to a fight after Bogosian, who earlier was stunned by an unpenalized Okposo elbow, slammed Frans Nielsen into the boards.

The linesmen restrained Okposo, as they did later with Matt Martin and Blake Wheeler.

"It's just playing hard, playoff intensity, and that happens sometimes," Okposo said. "You get fired up for a second, then you just rein it in and keep playing well."

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Visnovsky was kicking himself for taking a borderline interference penalty with 2:08 to go in the third, but the Isles could not complain much. They had the first four power plays of the game and did nothing with any of them.

But they were the better team at even strength and did not let the Jets' numerous rallies faze them.

Now they are closer than ever to the playoffs.

"We keep saying it, but two points is two points," said Nabokov, who made 24 saves and allowed more than three goals for the first time in his last 13 starts. "Good teams find a way to win."

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