The Islanders may have hit a turning point after a sluggish start this season.
Their third period in Monday night’s 2-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden certainly suggests so, as does their four-game point streak.
"We went through a little stretch there where we weren’t playing well," said Cal Clutterbuck, part of the fourth line that provided both goals. "A couple of games on the road that were uncharacteristic for us where we gave up leads and we were losing games in ways we don’t normally lose.
"It’s been a building process. Everyone goes through stretches where it’s not going well. It’s a lesson in how to handle it. It’s a lesson in how to dig your feet in."
The Islanders (5-4-2) snapped an 0-3-2 skid, which included back-to-back overtime losses in Philadelphia to end a five-game road trip, in Saturday night’s 4-3 win over the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum.
And Monday’s final 20 minutes showed the Islanders at their four-line best in building momentum shift by shift.
But it started with Semyon Varlamov (30 saves), who became the first goalie in Islanders history to record two shutouts over the Rangers in one season. He stopped Artemi Panarin on a breakaway and Mika Zibanejad’s two-on-one chance early in the third period.
"Varly’s save on Panarin on the breakaway gave us a lot of life on the bench," said Matt Martin, who took Clutterbuck’s feed to the left post and made it 2-0 at 13:20 of the third period.
"He was really locked in, he was confident," coach Barry Trotz said of Varlamov, who has three shutouts this season, including 24 saves in the season-opening 4-0 win at the Garden on Jan. 14. "Huge saves. He gave us a little momentum. Our bench sort of perked up at that point and the next couple of lines went out there and I think they started to change the momentum. It’s on Varly. He was huge for us tonight."
The Islanders started Saturday in last place in the East Division but moved past the idle Penguins on Monday and into fourth place. Four of the division’s eight teams will qualify for the playoffs.
"We’re playing well right now and we’re doing our jobs," Casey Cizikas said. "The coaches have been on us every practice every day expecting better from us, and we’re playing hard.
"The way that each line goes out there and plays the way their strengths work for them, it’s something we can build off of. When you have one line going out there and playing well, you want to follow that up with something good, and we’re doing that right now."
Cizikas finally made it 1-0 at 11:15 of the third period after Rangers defenseman Libor Hajek turned the puck over, connecting on a backhander past Igor Shesterkin (28 saves) at the right post off Martin’s feed.
Monday marked the third of eight games between the New York rivals — the next one is not until April 9 at the Coliseum — after they split shutouts at the Garden to open the season.
The Rangers won, 5-0, on Jan. 16 as highly touted Russian rookie Ilya Sorokin was forced into his NHL debut after Varlamov, the intended starter, was injured in warm-ups when Clutterbuck hit him under the mask with a shot.
The Islanders also have been trying to re-establish the consistent defensive structure that marked much of Trotz’s first two seasons.
Entering Monday, according to naturalstattrick.com, the Islanders ranked 19th in the 31-team NHL both in getting only 47.06% of the high-danger chances in games and having only 84.76% of scoring-chance shots against them not wind up as goals.
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