The Islanders made some surprising shutout history last week. They didn’t yield a goal on back-to-back days for the first time since the birth of the franchise, but the mystery was whether this team with the most shots and goals allowed in the NHL could continue its stinginess on the scoreboard.
The mystery was solved against Minnesota on Monday at Barclays Center: They could not. The Wild went on a wild run of three goals in a span of 4:12 in the second period.
Final score: Minnesota 5, Islanders 3.
Final analysis: The Islanders didn’t play badly, but a few mistakes came with a large price tag.
“The whole game was winnable,” coach Doug Weight said. “We played well. Three bad decisions . . . If you were playing better, consistent hockey throughout the year, you chalk it up as a couple of bad decisions and you march on. But now the points are so paramount important that it’s a big punch in the stomach.”
So the Islanders lost their two-game winning streak and their hold on the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. With 21 games left, they are 29-26-6, good for 64 points. Carolina (27-23-10) has the same amount of points and a game in hand, so for now, the Hurricanes have the final wild-card spot. Columbus (29-25-5) is a point behind the Islanders and has two games in hand on them.
“We’ve got to get to that 96-, 97-, 98-point threshold,” Thomas Hickey said. “So do the math. We’ve got to win most of our games.”
Hickey made bad decision No. 1 with a pass to the wrong team that led to the game’s first goal, but Ross Johnston tied it late in the first period. Then Hickey wristed a shot from the left point and Anders Lee deflected it past Devan Dubnyk 1:57 into the second, giving Lee his 30th goal.
“They’ve got big guys going to the net,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s tough. You can see why they’ve scored a lot of goals.”
Minnesota (32-20-7, 71 points), which holds the Western Conference’s second wild card, responded with its three-goal run.
Ryan Suter, operating from his own end, sent Matt Cullen in on a breakaway to tie it at 2-2 at 9:54. Bad decision No. 2: Weight said two defensemen came off without making sure the puck had gone deep enough in the opposing zone.
Jason Zucker followed by beating Jaroslav Halak (27 saves) from near the top of the right circle for the go-ahead goal. Then Cullen fed Tyler Ennis closing toward the net, and he made it 4-2.
The Islanders’ Tanner Fritz countered with 3:29 left in the period. The rookie right wing scored his first NHL goal in his 14th game. “I didn’t think it was going to take this long, but it’s an unreal feeling,” Fritz said. “Something I’ll always remember.”
But Zucker gave the Wild an insurance goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Bad decision No. 3: “We just got three guys below the goal line,” Weight said.
The Isles had three power plays in the third period, including a six-on-four with their net empty for the final 1:23, but Dubnyk — who made 17 of his 32 saves in the third — and the Wild held them off.
“I think it was 4-2 them in the second and I felt like we were resoundingly the better team at that point,” Weight said. “We just couldn’t come back.”