BOSTON -- The Islanders may yet return here in a few weeks to face the Bruins in the playoffs.
They may have given the big, bad boys from Boston something to think about Thursday night. .
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Josh Bailey scored both goals and the Islanders finished off another tight game in strong fashion, taking a 2-1 win out of Boston for their eighth victory in 10 games.
The two points seemed even bigger when the results of teams around them in the Eastern Conference rolled in -- the Senators, Jets and Capitals all won, leaving the Islanders still in a tie with Ottawa for sixth at 46 points but with an extra game played.
And it was, quite plainly, a heck of a game. The Isles managed to grab a 1-0 lead after a bit of a sloppy first period, then poured on the pressure in the second, with 19 shots against Tuukka Rask. In the third, the Isles allowed only seven Bruins shots and played a smart, simple game to close out their 12th road win in 19 games, ensuring their first winning record away from Nassau Coliseum since 2006-07 -- the last season the Islanders made the playoffs.
"You saw what we did in the third period -- our forwards did a great job keeping the puck and [the Bruins] had some trouble getting into our zone," said Travis Hamonic, who had to be helped off the ice after twisting his knee in an ugly spill in the first, only to return from the locker room a few minutes later and finish with 24:37 of ice time. "This is always a tough building to play in and they're obviously a great team. We just wanted to make sure we had the same good effort we've had the last few weeks."
Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves for his 20th win of the season to make Bailey's second goal the winner, a wrist shot off the rush that trickled under Rask's arm and barely over the goal line with 6:48 left in the second.
The Islanders had chance after chance in the middle period, denied only by Rask as the Bruins looked every bit the team that had played three games in four nights. Boston held a 16-8 shot edge in the first but Bailey's goal, a pinpoint slapper off a feed from Mark Streit with 20.5 seconds to go in the period, had given the Isles the lead.
"When you've been around a while, you know this type of win feels good," said Nabokov, who allowed fewer than three goals for the eighth time in his last nine starts. "Maybe you didn't have your best at the start, but it's a good feeling when we keep finding ways to win."
There were a few other war wounds, with Streit needing to be stitched up after taking a stick to the face on a shot follow-through in the third and Frans Nielsen going off slowly after a big hit, also in the third.
But the Islanders have proved to be a team that now knows how to play with the lead and play smartly aggressive in tight games. That will serve them well tomorrow when the Rangers come to the Coliseum for the biggest Isles-Rangers game in years, as well as serve them well if they can continue on into the postseason.
"It's an exciting time," said Bailey, who has seven points in his last six games. "But I think we've put it in the right perspective. We know we haven't accomplished anything yet."