NEWARK -- It is April and the Islanders are playing meaningful games. With 12 games to go and a playoff spot tantalizingly at hand, the way they are playing shows they want more.
Their 3-1 win over the Devils last night kept the Islanders on pace with the Rangers, still tied for eighth place in the East and only two points behind the seventh-place Devils. There were plenty of heart-in-the-throat moments, especially during an ugly second period, but the Isles did not relinquish an early lead and got a key John Tavares power-play goal in the third to restore a two-goal cushion.
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"It's fun right now," said Frans Nielsen, who set up both first-period goals, one by Josh Bailey off a two-on-one 52 seconds in and one by Travis Hamonic at 7:14. "Everybody's excited. We go out, play our game and we're getting good results now."
Evgeni Nabokov made 24 saves and helped keep the Isles from tossing away another two-goal lead as they limped off the ice clinging to a 2-1 edge after two. But in a very clinical third period, the Isles blocked a half- dozen shots and played a disciplined game that led to their first power play of the night.
That led to Tavares' 22nd goal off a rebound of Lubomir Visnovsky's sharp-angle toss on Martin Brodeur. Jack Capuano and his staff were miffed at the first power-play unit's desire to find a perfect play rather than simply firing pucks on goal during the crucial 1:55 five-on-three in Pittsburgh on Saturday, so the soft shot-rebound-goal scenario at 9:13 of the third enthused everyone.
"It's what we discussed, what we met and talked about with those guys," Capuano said after the team's fourth victory in the last five games. "Back to basics."
The second period was a problem in Washington a week ago, when the Isles turned a 2-0 lead into a 2-2 tie but capitalized late for a regulation win. The problem of long shifts with the long way to the bench in the middle period cropped up again after the Devils, fairly lifeless in the opening period, sprang to action.
"We knew they weren't going to roll over and play dead after the first," Matt Moulson said. "It wasn't great puck management or shift management by us, but Nabby made some big saves and we got out of there with the lead."
Out and up, even though the Rangers' win last night kept things even and kept the Isles, who have played one more game than the Rangers, technically on the outside looking in for another night. They host the Jets tonight, another chance to move up the standings in this final month of the shortened season. It's also the last game before tomorrow's trade deadline. That might be just another day, with the Isles not looking to add rental players and certainly not looking to shake up the chemistry of their team by moving players out.
"This was a good win, but it's more important what we do with these next few games," Tavares said. "We have to keep earning wins, earning points and putting pressure on the teams ahead of us."