WINNIPEG, Manitoba — As comebacks go, this might have been the Islanders’ most important of the season.
“This is a really good sign for our team,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said.
The Isles allowed a goal off the opening faceoff and twice trailed by two goals. But two goals within 33 seconds late in the third period — and three goals overall in the final period — propelled them to a 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night at Bell MTS Place.
The Islanders (45-26-7) remained within three points of the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals, who beat the Hurricanes, 3-2. They also moved two points ahead of the third-place Penguins. Their magic number for clinching their first playoff spot since 2016 was reduced to two; any combination of points gained by them or lost by ninth-place Montreal adding up to two will put them in the playoffs. They can clinch by beating the Sabres on Saturday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders started this two-game trip with Tuesday night’s 4-0 loss at Columbus. “It’s probably the biggest win of the year right now, coming off a tough loss,” said defenseman Ryan Pulock, a Manitoba native who had three assists. “There are a few games [four] left and you’ve got to get those points.”
Casey Cizikas picked up a puck in the crease and tied the score at 4 with his 20th goal at 18:14 of the third period. Then Jordan Eberle scored his second goal of the third period, stuffing home the winner past Connor Hellebuyck at 18:47.
“Wow,” said goalie Robin Lehner, who made 32 saves in an at-times-brilliant performance for the Islanders. “This was absolutely incredible. I know nothing is done yet and we really needed this one. We didn’t give up. This is one of the most fun wins I’ve had in a long, long time.”
“It’s a big win because of the way you had to play the game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You need some of those to feel good.”
Hellebuyck made 39 saves for the Central Division-leading Jets (45-28-4).
Trotz benched fourth-line left wing Matt Martin after the Jets took a 3-1 lead at 3:46 of the second period. Cal Clutterbuck and then Cizikas broke their sticks on the sequence and Brandon Tanev’s blue-line shot snuck through traffic as Lehner angrily slammed the butt of his stick against the left post.
The Islanders controlled play for the rest of the period, coming within 3-2 at 6:06 on a five-on-three power play. Anders Lee scored his 28th goal, tipping Ryan Pulock’s blast from the left point.
Seconds after hitting the post, Mark Scheifele tipped in Jacob Trouba’s shot for a power-play goal as the Jets went ahead 4-2 at 6:46 of the third period. But Eberle, at the crease, knocked in the rebound of Pulock’s shot from the right to pull the Islanders within 4-3 at 7:49.
Adam Lowry scored the first of his two first-period goals just 13 seconds in, getting behind Cizikas to the far post and knocking in Tanev’s wraparound feed from the right post.
Lowry also deflected Trouba’s shot from the right point to make it 2-0 at 6:11. But Lehner kept the Islanders from a three-goal deficit by reaching out with his left arm to deny Kyle Connor’s power-play chance from the doorstep at 12:31 after stopping Patrik Laine and Scheifele in succession on similarly close-range chances.
Mathew Barzal brought the Islanders within 2-1 at 10:19 of the first period. He snapped a 19-game goal drought after Eberle tracked down a loose puck and fed him through the slot.