Barry Trotz praised the Islanders’ overall cohesion, aggressive defensive play and, of course, Semyon Varlamov’s 25-save performance for his NHL-leading sixth shutout, second in a row and third at Madison Square Garden this season.
But with time running short for the coach to settle on a lineup and find some consistent goal production, Trotz also may have found the right combinations in Thursday night’s dominant-in-every-facet, 4-0, win over the Rangers to open the home-and-home series.
"It doesn’t hurt," Trotz said. "It was a bit of it, but I don’t think it was all of it. It was our mindset. We weren’t scared of the event. A lot of people were poking holes at the Islanders the last couple of days because we didn’t get it done against the Caps. But this is a proud group. They knew what was on the line and they played that way."
Still, expect to see the same lineup for the teams’ rematch on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, one of the Islanders’ six remaining regular-season games.
The Islanders (30-15-5) were coming off a three-game sweep by the Capitals in which they were shut out twice. They entered Thursday in a 2-4-1 skid and had scored one or fewer goals in five of those seven games.
Now, they are seven points ahead of the Rangers, who have played one extra game, with two playoff spots remaining in the East Division after both the Capitals and Penguins clinched berths on Thursday night.
And, really, Trotz just reverted to some familiar combinations for the crucial matchup.
Grinder Leo Komarov was reinserted onto Mathew Barzal’s top line with Jordan Eberle and responded with his first goal of the season, cheekily plucking an imaginary monkey off his back during the celebration after his one-timer from the right circle made it 1-0 at 6:27 of the first period.
"He’s Uncle Leo, he’s fun to have in the dressing room," Trotz said. "He’s one of those veteran guys that’s under-appreciated because he’s not always pretty to the eye."
"I’ve been inside for five months, I have no idea what people are writing or saying about me," said Komarov of analytics not reflecting his effectiveness. "Maybe it doesn’t look good, maybe it looks good. I don’t really care. As long as the team wins, I’m happy for that."
Anthony Beauvillier, who settled defenseman Scott Mayfield’s cross-ice feed to the right circle to make it 3-0 at 1:03 of the third period, was reunited with second-line center Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey.
That left Kyle Palmieri on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s left wing with rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, in his second game back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for three games. Wahlstrom’s power-play goal made it 2-0 at 12:39 of the first period.
"I was grinding the last couple of weeks," said Wahlstrom, whose 10th goal was his first in 11 games. "But the most important thing is just this win."
It left Travis Zajac a healthy scratch for the second time since he and Palmieri were acquired from the Devils on April 7. Trotz favorite Michael Dal Colle was also out of the mix.
Notes & quotes: Barzal snapped a 13-game goal drought with his first career empty-netter…The NHL fined Barzal $2,000 for diving/embellishment against the Capitals on April 22, going down to the ice after Carl Hagelin put his stick into Barzal’s midsection at 4:47 of the second period. Hagelin was not penalized for hooking. Barzal had received a first warning for diving/embellishment against the Flyers on Jan. 30…Concrete was poured on Thursday for the ice floor at under-construction UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
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