DETROIT — With the Islanders off to a suspect start, the Red Wings’ Niklas Kronwall blindsided Anders Lee in the first period and temporarily knocked him out of the game.
Seeing their captain shaken up stirred the correct response from the Islanders, starting with forward Josh Bailey fighting for only the third time in his career. They became more engaged physically but without losing their discipline in rallying from a two-goal deficit to beat the Red Wings, 3-2, and snap a two-game losing streak on Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Kronwall lined up Lee with a shoulder to his face at 16:01 of the first period as Lee skated with his head down looking at the puck along the right boards in the neutral zone. Lee, bleeding heavily, did not return until 11:47 of the second period.
He needed eight stitches about his left eyebrow and more over his lip and also went through concussion protocol.
Kronwall may be in danger of NHL supplementary discipline, though his hit on Lee went unpenalized.
“When you see your captain laying on the ice, that’s never a good feeling,” said Matt Martin, who scored the winner at the crease at 3:24 of the third period as Cal Clutterbuck notched his 100th career assist by directing the puck with his skate. “Our response from that was unbelievable. Bails stepping up and getting into a fight gives a guy like myself chills. It fires you up.”
“No question this was a good character win,” said Bailey, who used his skates to knock down Kronwall, then fought Dylan Larkin — an unlikely bout — at 18:39 of the first period as he skated back up ice.
“Bailey going over there and answering the bell, I thought he pulled the rest of the group in,” coach Barry Trotz added.
The Islanders (14-11-3) got 23 saves from Thomas Greiss, making his seventh start in eight games, and a power-play goal for the first time in 10 games.
Jonathan Bernier made 16 saves for the Red Wings (13-13-4).
The Islanders were coming off Thursday’s 6-2 loss at Pittsburgh, a game that lacked any sense of engagement on their part.
“It was a good response to Pittsburgh and Winnipeg [Tuesday’s 3-1 loss at Barclays Center]. It’s a character win,” said Lee, who had his goal streak snapped at four games.
The Islanders were struggling, particularly in the defensive zone, before Kronwall’s hit served as a wake-up call.
Kronwall had given the Red Wings a 2-0 lead at 13:53 with a blue-line wrist shot as Justin Abdelkader screened Greiss. Abdelkader opened the scoring at 4:59, putting in Larkin’s rebound after Larkin split defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk and skated to the crease.
Trotz successfully challenged Martin Frk’s apparent goal 17 seconds later for offsides but admitted he considered pulling Greiss at that point.
Casey Cizikas brought the Islanders within 2-1 at 4:31 of the second period, winning an offensive zone faceoff and getting to the crease to take Ross Johnston’s feed from behind the crease.
The Islanders then snapped an 0-for-20 power-play drought as Ryan Pulock connected on a slap shot from the right circle on a five-on-three advantage. Bailey’s primary assist was the 400th point of his career.
Boychuk fought Abdelkader at 13:36 of the second period.