The Islanders ultimately did everything they wanted to on Thursday night.
They played aggressively, skated well and won a good share of their one-on-one battles. They played a second straight defensively sound game that limited rebound opportunities. And they got another brilliant effort from goalie Thomas Greiss.
It was a playoff-level performance that will serve them well if they reach the postseason for the first time since 2016. And they didn’t let frustration overtake them as the Canadiens’ Carey Price continued to stonewall them.
“These last two games have been playoff games with teams that are leaving it all out there,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “The pace has picked up. There’s limited space and you have to show patience at times. That’s what the playoffs are. You’re going to run into some teams that can do a lot of different things that maybe we can’t.”
So what could have been a one-sided game turned into a crucial 2-1 nail-biter of a win for the Islanders in front of 13,274 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“They did a good job of collapsing and blocking shots and making it tough on us,” said Mathew Barzal, who took the puck from Max Domi in the defensive zone and showed patience in leading a two-on-one rush before feeding captain Anders Lee at the edge of the left circle for the winner at 17:03 of the third period. “Sometimes you grind for 58 minutes, then you catch your break.”
“Barzy’s poise and the way he took the puck out of the defensive zone, you kind of know the whole way what’s going to happen,” said Lee, who scored his 25th goal. “It’s the stuff that puts butterflies in your stomach when you know you have an opportunity and you want to capitalize on it.”
The Islanders (41-22-7) remained two points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals, who beat the Flyers, 5-2, in Philadelphia. The Isles stayed two points ahead of the third-place Penguins, who beat the Sabres, 5-0, in Buffalo.
Lee’s goal backed up another strong game from Greiss (33 saves), who made his fourth straight start. Price made 36 saves for the Canadiens (37-26-7), who will host the Islanders next Thursday.
Said Trotz, “We ran into a Hall of Fame goaltender who played like a Hall of Famer.”
The Islanders concluded a stretch of eight of nine at home with a 4-4-0 record.
The Canadiens presented a second straight chance for the Islanders to get some separation from a team battling for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Isles were coming off Monday night’s 2-0 win over the visiting Blue Jackets, their strongest performance since an emotional 6-1 win over the Maple Leafs in John Tavares’ return on Feb. 28.
“It’s definitely the same style of hockey the past couple of games,” said defenseman Adam Pelech, whose shot from the slot gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 1:20 of the second period. “The past few weeks, we kind of drifted away from our game, but the last couple of games, we got right back to that.”
Montreal defenseman Jordie Benn tied the score at 1-1 at 18:10 of the second period with a slap shot from the left point that went in through traffic after Paul Byron retrieved the rebound of Benn’s initial shot. But Greiss stayed solid.
“Two big wins against two teams trying to make the playoffs,” he said. “They’re right there, it’s tight in the standings. Those are big wins for us.”