CHICAGO — The Islanders held off the Blackhawks as long as they could in a frantic third period Friday night, but they could not see it through.
Artemi Panarin snapped a shot through a screen past Thomas Greiss with 1:14 remaining in the third period to tie the score, then clinched the game in the shootout. It wound up a 2-1 loss for the Islanders in a game that was 74 seconds away from being one of their grittier victories of the season.
Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford had been pulled when Panarin scored the tying goal.
“I thought we played a strong game,” Doug Weight said. “The goaltenders were unreal. Thomas was incredible there.”
Greiss, who totaled 30 saves, stopped 14 other Blackhawks shots in the third period as he tried to make Brock Nelson’s second-period goal stand up. Greiss flashed his right pad to stop Ryan Hartman in the early stages of the third and thwarted a few tries from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who were paired in the final minutes as the Blackhawks pressed for the tie.
Not that the Islanders were helpless all game long. After a cautious first period, the Isles grabbed the lead at 13:27 of the second period when Nelson converted on a two-on-one, with Travis Hamonic joining the rush just as an Islanders penalty expired. It was Nelson’s 14th goal.
Crawford had to stand tall over the final few minutes of the second period, denying John Tavares in close and Andrew Ladd twice after a Chicago turnover.
The Islanders held a 19-13 edge in shots on goal after two.
“We definitely had our chances,” said Hamonic, who returned to action after missing 24 games with a right knee injury. “It was a little back-and- forth for a while, but they throw a pretty good six-man unit out there at the end.”
The Islanders wanted two points and certainly came close to grabbing the second point in overtime. Toews scored on the first shootout attempt and the Islanders’ Josh Ho-Sang and Nikolay Kulemin missed their tries before Panarin ended it.
“Not the result we wanted, but we’ll take the point,” Tavares said. “We maybe didn’t push the envelope like we might normally do coming in off a back-to-back and with them at home waiting for us. But I thought we played a pretty strong road game.”
Hamonic, who had an assist on Nelson’s goal, not only missed so many games but missed so much more.
The team Hamonic left behind when he took a knee-on-knee hit from Arizona’s Lawson Crouse on Jan. 7 was stuck in last in the Eastern Conference, bobbing along at a .500 points percentage without much to look forward to.
Jack Capuano was fired 10 days later, Weight took over and Hamonic’s teammates started to play spirited hockey. With Hamonic back in the lineup, the Islanders (30-22-11) now hold the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, a point ahead of Toronto, which has played one more game.
Hamonic was hoping to just slide back in relatively unnoticed. “I have missed a lot and this will be the first game with Doug for me,” he said before the game. “Early on, you know what it’s like — when you’re coming back from an injury, you’re not around a ton.
“As of late, sitting in all the meetings, I don’t think a ton has changed. I just think we’re a team that’s playing really confidently, whether we’re up or we’re down, especially at the start of the third periods. I think that’s why we’ve had some success of late.”