The Islanders continued to play through most of their COVID-19 outbreak, and all of the games they lost count in the standings.
So beating an undermanned Bruins squad that was able to dress only 17 skaters counts just as much.
"It really didn’t change our focus," Josh Bailey said. "They’ve still got a very good team over there. A lot of respect for those guys. It was just make sure we outwork them and we found a way to get a win when we needed tonight."
The Islanders, behind goalie Semyon Varlamov’s first victory, topped the Bruins, 3-1, on Thursday night at UBS Arena, their second straight victory in their new $1.1 billion home after starting 0-5-2 in the building. It was the teams’ first meeting since the Islanders’ six-game win in the second round of the playoffs last season.
The last-place Islanders (8-12-5) still haven’t won consecutive games since Nov. 4-6, but they have won three of five and gotten at least one point in six of their last eight games as they’ve gotten most of their roster back healthy. Thursday started a stretch of seven of eight at home to close out December.
"I just thought we were businesslike tonight," coach Barry Trotz said.
"The last little while has been make-or-break," said Cal Clutterbuck, who opened the Islanders’ scoring at 11:47 of the first period, added an empty-netter at 17:43 of the third period and is fourth on the team with five goals. "We’ve put ourselves in a tough spot. We’re just trying to focus on the day in front of us. Things can get overwhelming."
Varlamov, who missed all of training camp and the preseason with a knee issue, made a season-high 40 saves in his eighth appearance. Defenseman Mike Reilly scored with 53.1 seconds left to spoil his bid for his fourth career shutout against the Bruins.
"It feels amazing, finally," Varlamov said. "I had a tough stretch but it’s over.
"It wasn’t easy. I missed a lot of games at the beginning of the season. I didn’t play a lot of games in the last couple of weeks, but every time I played, I felt like I played pretty good. I just didn’t get the result."
Varlamov stopped all 21 shots he faced in the middle 20 minutes. That included denying Karson Kuhlman at the crease at 5:34 after he sped past Austin Czarnik — recalled from AHL Bridgeport earlier in the day — and defenseman Robin Salo. Varlamov also stopped David Pastrnak — who remained on the Bruins’ reconstituted top line with center Charlie Coyle and Taylor Hall — at the net at 15:35.
Anthony Beauvillier, with his first point in 16 games, gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead with a power-play slap shot past Linus Ullmark (25 saves) at 1:44 of the second period.
The Bruins were missing two-thirds of their top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in COVID-19 protocol. They were joined by goalie Jeremy Swayman and forwards Craig Smith, Anton Blidh and Trent Frederic.
And when Oskar Steen also was placed in COVID-19 protocol shortly before the game, it forced the Bruins to play one skater short, with 11 forwards and six defensemen.
The Islanders also played one forward short after Kyle Palmieri exited at 13:06 of the second period. Trotz said Palmieri is day-to-day with a lower-body issue.
Islanders top-line center Mathew Barzal remains quarantined in Detroit after testing positive on Tuesday. He became the ninth Islander this season to be put in COVID-19 protocol, but he and defenseman Ryan Pulock (long-term injured reserve/lower body) are the only players currently unavailable.