The Islanders have been a horror show in the third period for too many nights this season. Tuesday, there were certainly chances to fold in the final 20 minutes against the Capitals at a sold-out Barclays Center, but this time the Isles stood strong.
Two goals in 43 seconds early in the period pulled the Islanders out of a tie game and two penalty kills in the final 5:15 while protecting a one-goal lead cemented a 4-3 win, the Islanders’ third straight after a five-game losing skid.
“We’re playing better for sure,” said Nikolay Kulemin, who set up Cal Clutterbuck’s game-opening goal and teamed with John Tavares to do some strong work on the penalty kill, which went 4-for-4 against the Caps’ dangerous group. “I think we were changing lines a lot before and now, the last few games, the lines are the same and we’re getting some chemistry with each one.”
It was a four-line effort from the Islanders forwards, with Andrew Ladd scoring twice, Anders Lee netting his team-high 13th and Clutterbuck scoring for the first time in 20 games.
But, this being the 2016-17 Isles, there were hiccups. Alex Ovechkin was alone in front of Jaroslav Halak to shovel a backhand rebound home at 1:17 of the third to tie the game at 2-2. The last time the Caps were in Brooklyn two weeks earlier, Washington scored early in the third to snap a 2-2 deadlock on the way to a 4-2 win, one of those five straight defeats by the Islanders in which they were outscored 11-0 in the third period.
On Tuesday, however, there was a push back. The Ladd-Alan Quine-Jason Chimera line had a nice night on Friday, before the three-day holiday break. They came back to work with the same determination and Quine made a terrifically patient play to get Ladd a tip-in goal at 4:41 of the third to restore the Isles lead.
“The pace he plays at, for a guy with not too many NHL games under his belt, is really impressive,” Ladd said of Quine. “He’s got a pretty strong two-way game.”
The Caps were bothered that Tom Wilson, whose big hits made him an Islanders enemy back in the 2015 postseason, was down and out as Ladd scored the go-ahead goal after Wilson blocked a Johnny Boychuk blast and then was shoved into the boards by the Isles defenseman.
And the Islanders quickly pounced. Lee intercepted a play by Matt Niskanen at the Islanders line, raced down unimpeded and beat Braden Holtby between the pads for a 4-2 lead.
Andre Burakovsky beat Halak from in close with 6:55 to go to make it a nervous finish and Dennis Seidenberg and Thomas Hickey each took minors in the late going to make it even more of a nail-biter.
But Halak made three of his 31 saves during that four-minute stretch and the penalty killers were in full desperation mode. “They showed they were willing to sacrifice their bodies and Jaro was definitely the No. 1 star for me,” Jack Capuano said. “Even on pucks they just threw at the net he was out and challenging.”
Now with 22 home games played out of their 34 this season, the Islanders begin a stretch of seven of the next eight on the road, where they’ve been lousy (3-7-2) this season. Not much has been better than lousy so far, so the road record is just one of many things that has to change for the Isles to begin 2017 with any chance to make the postseason.
“We’ve had some mishaps in the third period pretty often,” said Quine, who had two assists. “They got their goal early but we didn’t crumble. We came together and fought and got the result we wanted.”