With all the angst over the Islanders’ power play over the last quarter of the regular season, it was almost surprising to see them score on their first attempt of the postseason, late in the first period of Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We had that talk before the series,’’ said Brock Nelson, who scored that extra-man goal at 15:46 of the first period, at Friday’s morning skate prior to Game 2 at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum. “You’re not going to be able to score [on] everyone, but you want to get momentum for the team. And to be able to go out there and we got that first one, that was big. We had a couple chances in the second [power play] as well, so we’re looking to build off that.’’
The Isles ended up 1-for-2 on the power play in Game 1. It’s only one game, but that kind of success was wholly unexpected from a group that ranked 29th of 31 teams on the power play in the regular season. The Islanders connected at a rate of 14.5 percent a man up, and managed just three goals in 50 chances (6 percent) over their last 22 games.
Nelson, who scored 25 goals in the regular season, could hardly miss from where he was when Jordan Eberle’s pass found him. He was uncovered in the low slot in front of Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray after the Penguins turned the puck over breaking out of the zone.
The goal put the Islanders ahead, 2-1, and for Nelson it was just another big play in a game and a season full of them. He led all Islanders forwards in ice time in Game 1 with 20:13, and had four shots on goal, which was tied with Mathew Barzal for second-most on the team (Eberle had five).
Nelson, 27, is one of several key players on the roster who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Some others include Eberle, captain Anders Lee and goaltender Robin Lehner. Whether the Islanders are able — or willing — to sign all of them remains to be seen. But the 6-3, 212-pound Nelson would appear to be a priority, given he was the team’s third-leading scorer (a career-high 53 points) and led all forwards in ice time (17:58 per game) in the regular season.
“He’s been consistent all year, and that didn’t change last game,’’ Islanders coach Barry Trotz said of Nelson. “I thought he was real solid for us. He’s been reliable; he’s been productive. He plays in all key situations. He’s been a real good player for us.’’
“I’m just trying to play solid,’’ said Nelson, when apprised of Trotz’ comments about him. “He’s had a lot of trust, right from Day 1. He pushed me, challenged me to kind of take advantage of the opportunity to go out there and be a big part of the team. [And] I’ve played with good players.’’