The back-to-work Islanders, playing for the first time in 10 days, know they must get back to winning consistently if they are to make the playoffs for a second straight season in the Lou Lamoriello/Barry Trotz era.
So tying the score in the final minute of the third period and salvaging a potentially crucial point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pacific Division-leading Canucks, who were playing for the third time since last weekend’s All-Star Game, was a small victory on Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center.
“It’s never easy coming out of the break, especially going against a team that’s playing well and has a lot of success,” said goalie Thomas Greiss, who was not particularly sharp in his third straight start. “I think we played a really good game. We played hard and dominated most of the game. They got lucky a few times. A couple squeezed in there.”
That included rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes’ winner just 42 seconds into the three-on-three extra period, a shot that went past Greiss’ blocker. The goalie conceded he “lost it there for a second. Normally, I make that save.”
Still, the Islanders (29-15-6), just 6-6-3 since the NHL’s holiday break in December, maintained a one-point hold on third place in the Metropolitan Division as they came out of their extended All-Star Game/bye week break.
That’s because Brock Nelson was able to tie the score at 3-3 with 25.1 seconds left in regulation and Greiss off for an extra skater.
“Things are tight and we need all the points we can get, so that was a huge goal,” Matt Martin said. “But the whole game, I thought we did a pretty good job. We had some jam. We were physical and played our style. I think some pucks found the back of the net for them. But the resiliency was good.”
Hughes’ first goal, a sharp-angle shot from the left boards that gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead at 9:48 of the second period, also was one that Greiss should have stopped.
Jacob Markstrom stopped 34 shots for the Canucks (30-18-4), who have won five straight and are 14-3-0 since Dec. 19.
“I would take that game most nights,” Trotz said. “Vancouver is a very good team offensively. I thought we were resilient getting a late goal. That’s a big point for us. I thought their goals came a little bit easy. But they didn’t get very many chances.”
The Islanders held a 17-9 shot advantage after Hughes’ first goal, but Tim Schaller made it 3-1 at 14:56 of the second period, depositing the long rebound of defenseman Oscar Fantenberg’s initial shot that went right past Tom Kuhnhackl.
Kuhnhackl was benched in the third period after being on ice for three goals against.
“I thought we were playing well,” said Jordan Eberle, who brought the Islanders within 3-2 at 16:45 of the second period with his eighth goal of the season and fifth in nine games. “We were on pucks and, for the most part, we were pretty detailed. You never want to lose hockey games. But it’s good to get a point.”
One of Trotz’s main concerns for his team coming out of the break was how they would manage the puck early, and the Canucks took a 1-0 lead on their first shot at 2:09 of the first period as J.T. Miller knocked in a loose puck in the slot after an Islanders’ icing.
But the Islanders quickly tied it at 1-1 at 5:23 of the first period as Josh Bailey, rushing the puck up ice on the right, fed Michael Dal Colle at the far post for the redirection.