For the Islanders, there’s no time to mince words or let games slip. A one-goal lead entering the third period at home against the worst team in the NHL on Sunday night meant one thing for Islanders captain John Tavares.
“You have to step on some throats there,” he said.
His line did the trick on its opening shift of the third period, applying pressure around the Avalanche net until Tavares slid a slick pass to Anders Lee for the key goal in the Islanders’ 5-1 win.
The victory erased the bad taste of a shutout loss the day before in Ottawa. It brought the Islanders to within a point of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, currently held by the Maple Leafs, whom the Isles will visit Tuesday night. And it erased the lingering bad taste of a poor performance by backup goaltender J-F Berube, who allowed five goals in an overtime loss on Feb. 4 and had to wait more than a week to get his next crack at it.
“It’s like anything. When you don’t have a good game, you want to get right back in and prove yourself. This one hung around for a little bit,” said Berube, who allowed a breakaway goal by Joe Colborne at 8:12 of the first period and stopped the other 26 shots he faced.
“I had to try and block it out and it gave me some things to work on in practice. I think I tried to do a little too much last game [a 5-4 overtime loss to the Hurricanes], so I went back to basics tonight.”
So did the Islanders, who fell behind on Colborne’s goal and exited the first period tied after Nick Leddy’s seeing-eye wrister at 12:01.
Ryan Strome’s five-on-three goal, off another dazzler of a pass from Tavares, gave the Islanders a lead headed to the third period. It wasn’t one that any team would find comfortable, though, even against an Avalanche team that is 11 points out of 29th.
“That’s what a road team wants, to hang around,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said. “I know they are where they are in the standings, but you have to step on throats. Especially at home.”
Lee scored his 20th goal 1:21 into the third and followed with his 21st on the power play at 11:22 off a good setup by Johnny Boychuk.
Jason Chimera scored at 13:48 as the Islanders continued two encouraging trends.
They moved to a positive goal differential in the third period (59-58), a frame that bedeviled them early this season. They haven’t lost consecutive games in regulation since Dec. 13-15, a span of 25 games in which they’ve gone 14-6-5.
“You have to play the full 60, or most of it, to get the right results,” said Boychuk, who had two assists. “We’ve been doing a better job of that of late.”
A big part of that has been Lee, who broke through the 20-goal plateau for the second time in three full NHL seasons and is on pace for 32 this season. He has 20 goals and 32 points in his last 35 games and has meshed well with Tavares and Josh Bailey, a consistent and true No. 1 line for the Islanders.
“I think him and Bails have proved a lot of people wrong as far as guys who can play those kind of minutes,” Weight said. “They’ve helped Johnny in a lot of ways, too.”