The Islanders are no longer just in the playoff hunt. They are the hunted now, a team to be chased instead of chasing others.
Their 5-2 win over the Jets Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum vaulted the Islanders, winners of five of their last six, over the idle Rangers and into a tie for seventh place with the also idle Devils. The Rangers have two games in hand on the Islanders, the Devils one.
The way this Islanders team has played, especially in the third periods of the previous two games, it doesn't seem they will be pushed out of the top eight easily.
"It's fun where we are right now in the standings, but we haven't done anything yet," said Frans Nielsen, whose power-play goal with 27.8 seconds left in the second period snapped a 2-2 tie. "It's a long way left to go and there's still a lot of points out there for us."
Anders Lee made his first NHL game a memorable one with a goal on his first shot as an Islander. Kevin Poulin made 23 saves for his first win since Feb. 18, 2012, and the first win by an Isles goaltender other than Evgeni Nabokov this season.
"The boys were awesome tonight," Lee said after he whipped a wrist shot from the left-wing boards that caught Ondrej Pavelec by surprise at 16:13 of the first. "I was just so surprised it happened to go in . . . It's hard to describe."
The Jets took a 2-1 lead early in the second, but the Islanders were not deterred. After pumping 18 shots on Pavelec and taking the lead back on goals by Colin McDonald and Nielsen, the Islanders looked very much like a team that knows how to play with the lead.
As they did in Newark a night earlier, the Isles played with a one-goal lead as if it were three or four, dumping pucks and cycling below the Winnipeg net, rolling four lines to sustain pressure.
"The last three years I've been here, we never really learned to win these tight games, and it showed in the standings," Matt Martin said. "I think we know now that we need to come out in the third and play harder with the lead, that there's always more we can do when we're ahead to close teams out."
With 11 games to go, there is still more to be done in the standings. The Islanders travel to Washington to face a Capitals team only three points back in 10th.
"We talked about this even before the season started. This group wanted to be playing meaningful games the last month of the season," Jack Capuano said. "They're in position to do that now."
Notes & quotes: Captain Mark Streit and the Islanders are still apart on a contract extension, with sources telling Newsday that Streit is seeking a three-year deal with an average annual value in excess of the $4.75 million that teammate Lubomir Visnovsky agreed to last week.
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