NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Certain victories among the Islanders' 42 this season have felt a little bigger or more important than others. Early-season wins in Anaheim and Los Angeles, certainly. Three apiece over the rival Rangers and Penguins.
Thursday night was another one to put in that impressive column.
The Islanders' 4-3 win over the Predators, secured on Brock Nelson's goal off a long rebound with 6:08 to play, finished off a game in which the Isles alternated between superb and sleepy.
It also finished off a two-game season-series sweep of the Predators, who have been at or near the top of the league all season, thanks in large part to goaltender Pekka Rinne. The Islanders scored nine goals on Rinne in the two games, none bigger than Nelson's off a rebound of Michael Grabner's shot to break a 3-3 tie.
"We stuck with it," said Nelson, whose team grabbed a 3-1 lead at 8:39 of the third and suddenly were in a tie game just 2:08 later after allowing two goals in 31 seconds. "It's good to come in here, a tough place to play, and get another win over them."
The first two periods were vastly different, even as the Isles led 2-1 after both.
The Predators, now losers of five straight, came out with force to open the game. Matt Cullen nearly scored on a semi-breakaway just 40 seconds in, as Cody Franson's lead pass went through Johnny Boychuk's skate blade and right to Cullen, who hit the post behind Jaroslav Halak.
Nashville had 10 of the game's first 11 shots, but the Isles had a 2-0 lead as the first period wound down on John Tavares' 31st goal and Anders Lee's 22nd.
Colin Wilson's goal off a scramble with 1.2 seconds left in the first could have been deflating, but Tavares led the charge in the second. The captain played with some force of his own, generating scoring chances out of thin air and putting the Predators on their heels.
"Once Johnny started going, we fed off him," Jack Capuano said. "We got off real slow in the first but we started to get it going there a bit."
The third was see-sawing along until a strong shift by Nikolay Kulemin tired out the Predators.
Frans Nielsen whipped a pass through a crowd to Nick Leddy, who snapped a shot past Rinne for a 3-1 Islanders lead with 11:21 to play.
Insurance? Not quite. The Predators got within a goal on a lucky break, as Ryan Ellis' high blast banked off Mike Ribeiro's body and past Halak at 10:16. It was confirmed by video review.
The Islanders' backcheckers then lost track of Craig Smith, who took a pass and beat a helpless Halak at 10:47 to tie the score.
All was not lost, though.
"Maybe we weren't sharp on a couple shifts there, but for the most part, we were playing well," Tavares said. "We had to keep doing that."
Nelson's goal silenced the crowd and the Islanders played the final 6:08 airtight. Even when Nashville pulled Rinne for an extra attacker with 2:30 left, the Predators barely got the puck inside the Islanders' zone to set up for a tying try.
"Two quick goals, you could pack it in," said Boychuk, who had two assists. "But we got one back quick ourselves, and that was huge."
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