After a few days of frustration and sinking in the standings, the Islanders put together a Super Sunday.
Johnny Boychuk’s unscreened slap shot beat former Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson 2:57 into the Barclays Center matinee against the Oilers on Sunday, and the onslaught continued until the final horn. The Islanders’ 8-1 victory brought them back above the Eastern Conference playoff cut line and erased some bitter memories from two straight losses.
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“The last 10 games, I think we’ve played well,” said Kyle Okposo, who had a hat trick and an assist. “It’s good for some guys to get some confidence putting the puck in the net today.”
Goals by John Tavares and Nikolay Kulemin chased Nilsson after only 11:24. Former Ranger Cam Talbot fared no better as the Islanders scored four more in the second — two by Okposo and one each by Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck sandwiched around stellar rookie Connor McDavid’s lone Edmonton score past Thomas Greiss.
Greiss, playing for the first time since Jan. 12, was exceptionally sharp despite the lopsided final, making 30 saves.
Coming off an ugly 5-1 loss to the Red Wings in Detroit 24 hours earlier — a game that was more about poor goaltending and intermittent breakdowns than a walloping from the Wings — and the late score by Alex Ovechkin that gave the Capitals a 3-2 win on Thursday night, the Islanders awoke Sunday morning out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the first time since the opening weeks.
They still had games in hand, and the goal is to put those to good use. With goals from all angles, two on the power play and four from their top scorers, the Islanders put themselves back into third in the Metropolitan Division, a point ahead of the Penguins and Devils and three behind the second-place Rangers with a game in hand.
“Even though we’ve been playing some good hockey, results are what matter,” said Tavares, who had two assists to give him nine points in his last six games. “You could sense in the room we needed this one today.”
The Islanders gave as good as they got against the Oilers, who like the Islanders were coming off a 5-1 Saturday afternoon loss, theirs in Montreal. Eric Gryba and Tavares whacked at one another in the second and Zack Kassian chased a few Islanders around before Brian Strait stepped in and took a pounding from the hulking Edmonton forward.
But the Isles were focused on one thing. The last-place Oilers, headed for the draft lottery for a 10th consecutive season, were focused elsewhere.
“They got thumped 5-1 yesterday as well,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “It shows where one team is and how far one has to go.”
The week ahead brings visits to the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes, teams below the Islanders in the East standings, and the Pacific Division-leading Kings will come to Brooklyn. There are no gaps in the remaining schedule, and the Islanders will have to keep their level up as well as produce.
“You’re not going to get eight many nights,” Tavares said. “That said, we should’ve had a few more. We want to get to doing some of the offensive things we were doing last season that made us successful.”