WINNIPEG, Manitoba — A dominant offensive player and a hot goalie go a long way in hockey.
Long enough for the Islanders to win a game that — at least through the first 30 minutes — was played looser defensively than the final score would indicate.
“The start was definitely slow,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said after Thursday night’s 3-1 comeback victory over the Jets at Bell MTS Place. “It’s something we’re going to have to fix. But I think it gains confidence in here being able to find it halfway.”
Mathew Barzal, his lip swollen after an uncalled high stick from Adam Lowry — “That’s hockey. It happens. It feels good with a win,” he said — scored twice and Semyon Varlamov made 32 saves in his best performance as an Islander.
The Islanders (4-3-0), who earned their second regulation victory this season, have won three in a row.
“I don’t want to talk about my game,” said Varlamov, who made 15 first-period saves, denied Mark Scheifele from the low slot at 4:05 of the third period and gobbled up Patrik Laine’s blast at 18:40 with the Jets skating six-on-five. “It was a hard game to play today. We survived the first period.”
Connor Hellebuyck stopped 23 shots for the Jets (4-5-0), who have lost three straight. He robbed Oliver Wahlstrom, playing in his second NHL game, of his first career goal at 10:02 of the second period off a good feed from Josh Bailey.
“We’ve rallied the last few games,” Barzal said. “We’ve just got to keep this going. Our chemistry is coming along. Our power play is coming along. The pieces are falling into spots. It was just a good win by us today.”
The Islanders were dominant in a 4-1 win over the Jets at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 6. This game, with the Islanders missing Casey Cizikas and Jordan Eberle with lower-body injuries, was vastly different.
Even protecting a one-goal lead in the third period, the Islanders continued to yield odd-man rushes as they traded chances with the Jets. But Varlamov was the difference.
“It does go a long way,” Clutterbuck said of Varlamov gaining trust from his new teammates. “The confidence is building as the game goes on.”
Both teams expected a much tighter game on Thursday, with Jets coach Paul Maurice paying the Islanders the compliment of saying they play a “heavy” game like a Western Conference team, and that’s what it settled into during the second period.
The Islanders tied it at 1 at 7:41 on Barzal’s power-play one-timer from the left circle off Bailey’s feed. It was the Islanders’ first shot of the period.
“I think, being down 1-0, they were kind of putting pressure on us a bit,” Barzal said. “They were controlling the pace. To get one back and to kind of calm things down a little bit felt good. The rest of the team did a heck of a job battling hard and eventually just closing out the third period and making it a no-doubter.”
Barzal made it 2-1 with 17.0 seconds to go in the second. He kept the puck on a two-on-one rush that was started with Johnny Boychuk — the Islanders’ best defenseman throughout the game — swatting the puck out of the air to break up a Jets rush at the Islanders’ blue line.
Bailey added an empty-net goal with 27.0 seconds left to clinch the win.
The Islanders allowed the first goal for the fourth straight game as Nikolaj Ehlers’ power-play goal at 13:12 made it 1-0.