They had a pair of three-goal victories over the Thrashers already in hand this season, and the Islanders seemed well on their way to a third Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
But before securing a 6-5 win on Frans Nielsen's backhander in his team's third straight shootout, the Islanders witnessed a stunning turnaround.
They built leads of 3-0 after one period and 5-2 midway through the second. But after giving up four second-period goals, the Islanders watched Ilya Kovalchuk tie it with his 25th goal, a power-play slap shot at 11:23 of the third. That allowed Atlanta to snare a point, although it lost its eighth straight game.
"It's very important but still not good enough," Nielsen, who gave the Isles a 2-0 shootout lead, said of the win. "That's a team we're chasing, and giving them a point is not good enough."
The Islanders clinched the second point when Dwayne Roloson stopped Rich Peverley on the Thrashers' final shootout attempt. After Jeff Tambellini and Nielsen beat Johan Hedberg on the Islanders' first two attempts, Slava Kozlov scored on Atlanta's second try to make it 2-1.
Nielsen, who also had three assists, is 4-for-6 in shootout attempts. He said of coach Scott Gordon, "As long as I score, he's going to let me shoot. It's fun."
Nielsen repeatedly has resorted to his signature backhand move in the shootouts, and it worked again. "I'm surprised they haven't figured that out yet,'' he said.
The Islanders outshot Atlanta 17-5 in the first period, and Roloson received a plush three-goal cushion. But the Thrashers scored four times in a six-goal second period to make it 5-4, beating Roloson on four of 11 shots in the period. "We sort of sat back," he said. "We can't do that.''
The Islanders floundered in overtime and had difficulty retaining the puck, even while up a man after Christoph Schubert's high-sticking penalty gave the Islanders a critical power-play opportunity. They finished 0-for-5 with the man advantage to drop to 2-for 45 in the past 11 games. But they escaped with the second point, if not with another three-goal victory over Atlanta.
Matt Moulson ended a 10-game goal slump, snatching a loose puck in the crease and backhanding it over Hedberg's right pad at 7:13 of the first period. It was his 16th goal, tying John Tavares for the team lead.
Less than three minutes later, Jon Sim scored his third goal in four games after making good on a terrific spinning, backhanded assist from Josh Bailey at 10:04. Richard Park gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead when his shot deflected in off Schubert's stick at 17:54.
Second-period goals by Trent Hunter and Bailey gave Roloson another three-goal lead, but the Thrashers practically scored at will to thrust themselves back into the game.
The 40-year-old goalie improved to 15-7-6 as the Islanders scored four or more regulation goals for only the fourth time in his 28 starts. Said Gordon, who didn't consider pulling Roloson: "They can have a bad period but then still be so explosive."