Not by design, but the Islanders followed a path to victory Friday night against the Blues similar to the one they took in Wednesday night’s intense Barclays Center win over the Rangers.
In a tight-checking tie game that featured a few near-goals in overtime, the Islanders again took a 2-1 shootout decision, this one on skills-competition goals by Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo matched with two saves by Thomas Greiss.
They rallied to tie in the third on Mikhail Grabovski’s second-chance goal at 6:39 off a pretty feed from Ryan Strome, so that was a bit different from Wednesday night, when the Isles handed back a one-goal lead.
The crowd was a little thinner, too, to be expected against a Western Conference visitor. But the 12,873 saw the Islanders claw their way to a fourth straight win and improve to 10-4-2 at Barclays Center this season, proving that hangovers from sellout crowds or the idea that the smaller audiences have affected the Isles’ play don’t apply to this team.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Nielsen, who led off the shootout with a five-hole shot through Brian Elliott’s pads to make him 41-for-76 (53.9 percent) in his career in the shootout. “It took us a little time to get into this game, but Greiss was good for us. As long as we keep putting points on the board, it’s good.”
Kevin Shattenkirk’s one-timer caromed off the post and behind Greiss with 26.9 seconds to go in the first period to put the Isles behind a goal after one. They also were outshot 11-6 in a bit of a listless first 20 minutes.
But midway through the second, the Islanders found their game. Nikolay Kulemin rang one off the post late in the second and the Isles still trailed 1-0 entering the third, but there was more jump to their game, especially from the Kulemin-Grabovski-Strome trio.
Grabovski and Strome played give-and-go on a two-on-two rush in the third, with Strome drawing both Blues defensemen to him before finding Grabovski cutting to the net alone. Elliott stopped Grabovski’s first try, but he hung around the net long enough to chip the rebound past the goaltender and tie the score.
That gave Strome five points in the five games since his return from Bridgeport. The Islanders are 4-0-1 in that stretch.
“He’s been really good since he came back,” Travis Hamonic said. “He’s putting up points, which is great, but his positioning in the defensive zone has been great. He’s a smart player and it’s great to see him doing what he’s been doing.”
Hamonic did some strong work in the closing minutes of the third, twice snuffing out one-on-one forays by the dangerous Vladimir Tarasenko.
Then it was Greiss’ turn, denying five Blues shots in OT to get to the shootout, where he turned aside Shattenkirk and Tarasenko for the win.
“After the first, I thought we played real well the second and third,” said Greiss, who has a pair of wins over the Blues this season. “They’re a very good team, a lot of veterans who know how to slow the game down and be patient. We played a strong game.”