DETROIT — There were moments the Islanders could have let down on Tuesday. A tying goal surrendered with one-tenth of a second left in a strong first period. Two key forwards lost to injury after the second, followed by a defenseman limping off the ice.
Instead, the Islanders got stronger and outworked the Red Wings for a 3-1 win on opening night of a make-or-break, nine-game road trip.
“It’s what you have to do sometimes,” said Johnny Boychuk, who was the one hobbling off the ice with 14:16 to play after blocking a shot with his right foot. He returned for the final few minutes to help keep the Wings at bay. “Sometimes it’s easier to play on the road because you know you have to keep it simple. Down two guys in the third, we definitely had to do that.”
The Islanders brought a 2-1 lead into the third but only 10 forwards, with Cal Clutterbuck exiting after two periods with a recurrence of the lower-body injury that cost him the previous nine games and Casey Cizikas leaving with an apparent hand injury.
Boychuk joined them, but by then, the Islanders had extended their lead to two goals thanks to a great play by Josh Bailey. He jumped to keep a clearing attempt in the Red Wings zone, skated around a defender and slid the puck back across his body for a John Tavares chip-in at 3:42 of the third, a huge goal with the team short the two forwards.
Tavares was denied a two-goal game late in the second when Petr Mrazek dove to get his goal stick on a golden chance for the captain alone in front. Thomas Greiss was equally sharp, denying Frans Nielsen on a spin-around shot as one of his 12 second-period saves and 26 overall.
“Bails was all over the place tonight, he got rewarded,” Doug Weight said. “But it doesn’t stop there with the guys on the score sheet. Beau (Anthony Beauvillier) was huge, Kulie (Nikolay Kulemin) was a monster. I can keep going all the way down the lineup.”
Even down to 10 forwards, Weight kept rolling three lines and rotating all of his guys in. No forward outside of Cizikas and Clutterbuck played less than 14:08 or more than Tavares’ 18:54.
Bailey staked the Isles to the lead at 15:00 of the first, picking off an errant pass by Mrazek and beating the Wings goaltender as he scrambled back into position. The Isles could have taken that 1-0 lead into the break, but Scott Mayfield was whistled for holding with 3.2 seconds to go in the first and trouble struck quickly.
Nielsen beat Tavares on a draw and Thomas Vanek sent a pass across to Henrik Zetterberg, who zipped one by Greiss just before the horn.
“It’s a deflating goal,” Weight said. “But kudos to the guys, they got right back to it after the drop of the puck in the second.”
And got a good bounce to take the lead back. On a power play of their own, Calvin de Haan’s wrist shot bounced off Mrazek, then Wings defenseman Maxime Ouellette’s face, down and over the goal line at 10:46 of the second.
The Isles took it from there and took it to the Wings. Weight said Cizikas will be evaluated Wednesday in Montreal and Clutterbuck was a precautionary pull, but the Islanders can’t stop to worry about who’s out.
“We just wanted to get off to a good start on the trip,” Tavares said. “It was a solid effort all the way through.”