Playoff contention still is a long way off for the Islanders. But they finally are playing playoff-worthy hockey.
Actually, it wasn’t quite playoff-quality hockey on Sunday night as they got hemmed in their end for stretches in the third period. But the Islanders still won their third straight in regulation for the first time this season — it’s just their third three-game winning streak of the season and first since Jan. 17-21 — with a 4-3 victory over the Ducks at UBS Arena to conclude a 4-2-0 homestand.
"This wasn’t our best performance out of the homestand, but we got it done," coach Barry Trotz said. "That’s the bottom line. I believe in the hockey gods. And if you put in the work, you usually get rewarded at some point. Maybe that was one of those games we get back a little bit."
The Islanders (24-24-8), back at NHL .500 for the first time since Feb. 9, remain 18 points behind the Capitals — whom they will face Tuesday night in Washington — for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
Ilya Sorokin made 39 saves to earn his fourth win in his last five starts and Kyle Palmieri scored twice.
"It all starts with Soroky," said Palmieri, who has eight goals in 14 games since returning to the lineup. "He played a great game. Our goalies have been giving us a chance, and it’s been nice to give them some support on the other end."
"It always feels good to win," said Josh Bailey, who assisted on both of Palmieri’s goals. "It feels right the way we’ve been playing. We just want to keep it going. It’s just a one-day-at-a-time mentality right now."
Palmieri’s second goal, a one-timer off defenseman Scott Mayfield’s feed from behind the crease, made it 4-2 at 17:25 of the second period.
John Gibson (25 saves) denied Palmieri his third career hat trick — one each for the Ducks and Devils — by reaching back with his paddle to stop a wide-open power-play chance from the left circle at 6:01 of the third period, leaving Palmieri to exclaim, "You’ve got to be kidding me!"
"He was laughing at me," Palmieri said. "I laughed at myself. But it is what it is. At least it didn’t come back to bite us."
The Ducks did pull within 4-3 on Adam Henrique’s goal at 18:16 of the third period with Gibson pulled for an extra skater. But the Islanders regrouped on their next shifts and kept the goalie on the ice off the ensuing faceoff for almost a minute.
Gibson already had kept the Ducks (27-25-10) within two heading into the third period by stopping Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s shorthanded breakaway at 19:45. Isac Lundestrom, who deflected defenseman Hampus Lindholm’s shot, had brought the Ducks within 3-2 at 14:23 of the second period.
Mathew Barzal’s new line with Oliver Wahlstrom and Zach Parise produced a goal on its first shift as Parise, after a strong forecheck, got to the crease for a 1-0 lead at 2:18 of the first period. Ducks defenseman Josh Manson got to the crease to tie it at 1 at 9:48 of the period.
But the Islanders stretched it to a two-goal advantage in the first period’s final minute. Palmieri wristed a shot to the far post from the left circle with 28.2 seconds remaining and Anders Lee, with his seventh goal in four games, tipped in defenseman Ryan Pulock’s shot from the right point to make it 3-1 with 3.3 seconds left.
"Things have just been clicking," Bailey said. "It starts becoming contagious. It gives you a little added confidence."