PHILADELPHIA — The climb continues.
The Islanders shook off a sluggish first period and overpowered the Flyers, 3-1, to pull within two points of the final playoff spot in the East on Thursday night. Thomas Greiss stood tall early and late, stopping 33 shots and the Isles turned a poor start into one of their better road games of the season in controlling the second and third periods.
They are now a point behind the Flyers, who dropped into ninth place in the conference with the loss, and two back of the Bruins, on whom the Isles have four games in hand.
“We’ve had a different level for a while,” said Jason Chimera, whose backhand chip past Steve Mason at 2:13 of the second proved to be the game-winner. “The calmness on the bench is better. Maybe early in the year we’d get rattled by that kind of start, guys yelling at each other maybe. But we’re confident and we know what kind of team we are and how we can play.”
After playing a few younger, faster teams the last three — and allowing five goals in each, managing to go 1-1-1 — the Isles were perhaps expecting something other than what the Flyers brought to start Thursday’s game.
“We might’ve forgotten we were on the road and facing a physical team,” Doug Weight said.
Wayne Simmonds barely jammed one under Greiss’ arm and over the goal line on a Flyers power play at 12:07 of the first on Philly’s 13th shot on net. The Islanders had just two at that point and looked out of sorts. A power play of their own later in the period looked ragged, but Anders Lee tipped John Tavares’ wrister past Mason at 16:40 and the Islanders looked fully awake thereafter.
“There’s just no panic, there can’t be,” Tavares said. “We were definitely a little hesitant in all three zones, Greisser was huge for us there. And we got the goal and everyone pulled their socks up.”
It started with a strong shift by Tavares’ line to open the second and Chimera’s goal, on which he zipped past the Flyers defense to corral a flip pass from Andrew Ladd and get a backhand by Mason, cemented the Isles’ good feelings and put a Flyers team coming off being shut out in consecutive games on their heels.
The Isles conducted training drills in the Philadelphia end at times in the second, changing defense pairs while the forwards cycled down low. The shots on goal went from 16-7 Flyers after one to 19-18 Isles in the second.
“One of our best road games the last two periods,” Chimera said. “A great team effort.”
Casey Cizikas’ second effort on a one-on-one foray beat Mason with a very stoppable shot 1:21 into the third to really take the air out of the Wells Fargo Center, where the Islanders hadn’t won in regulation since Jan. 19, 2012 (four shootout wins in 10 games since). Greiss was again sharp as the Flyers pressed late and the Islanders blocked 32 Flyers shots.
“We were a lot better in our own end,” Greiss said. “Guys were playing hard, making a lot of plays to keep them to the outside.”
The Islanders headed to Ottawa for a Saturday matinee against another Eastern Conference team within a few points of them. A win could slide the Isles into that last playoff position, something that seemed unimaginable for the first 40 games of the year.
“There’s still 30 games left, more than a third of the season,” Tavares said. “There’s no question we wanted to put ourselves in position to make those 30 games mean something, but this isn’t a time to start getting comfortable or complacent. There’s still a long way to go.”
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