As John Tavares goes, so go the Islanders. At least that’s how it usually is.
On Wednesday in a huge tilt with the Rangers, Tavares was stuck in neutral, fighting the puck for two periods and taking more minor penalties than shots on goal.
Still, the Isles persevered thanks to a couple of their kids. Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony Beauvillier provided the spark after some listless stretches over the first 40 minutes and the Islanders escaped Madison Square Garden with a 3-2 victory and two points to keep close behind the Bruins for the final East playoff spot.
“I didn’t really have my best today,” said Tavares, who still fired off a shot that turned into Andrew Ladd’s eventual game-winner on the power play with 7:22 to go. “I’ve obviously got to be a little better, stay out of the box there. It is what it is, I just tried to play a simple game.”
Tavares, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome are usually the top forwards who can make the offense go. None of them had much going in a tight game. Nelson took a bad penalty in the opening minute of the third and flubbed two good looks in that final period while Strome exited in the second with what may be a significant injury to his right wrist.
Strome got his arm caught at an awkward angle as Brady Skjei went to hit him. Strome immediately dropped his stick and a glove, went to the bench and then hustled to the dressing room.
“It’s not great,” Doug Weight said. “I can’t elaborate yet, but he won’t be with us for the weekend and probably longer.”
Down to 11 forwards and trailing by a goal, Weight had no hesitation to send Beauvillier and Ho-Sang out with whomever he could find. Beauvillier’s strong rush up the off-wing in the second produced a backhand and a rebound that Anders Lee scored off to tie it 1-1 and, with an early power play in the third, the two kids figured in another tying score.
Ho-Sang made a one-touch pass into the slot where the puck banked off Beauvillier’s skate, then Nikolay Kulemin’s, and past Antti Raanta. It was Beauvillier’s second two-point game of his rookie season and Ho-Sang’s assist gave him seven points in 11 games.
“Three days off can be big for guys that young,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “You come up or start the season as a rookie, you’re just flying those first 5-10 games and then the schedule can catch up with you. Tonight they both had a ton of jump and it helped us.”
Tavares won’t have many more games like Wednesday’s, where he looked like he was on an episode of “Punk’d.” Nothing was going right. But if there are more nights like this for Beauvillier and Ho-Sang, the last 10 games will be quite the ride.
“They were a big part of that game,” Weight said. “I really believe they can be big contributors for us down the stretch and in the future.”