The New York Islanders won a game they had to win, against a team basically playing out the string, with an overdue burst of offense in the second period of a 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators. It ended a four-game winless (0-3-1) string and sent them back out on the road this weekend with something to feel good about.
The two points pulled them back to within one of Pittsburgh, who holds third place in the Metro after the same number (72) games played. It only let them keep pace with the Rangers, who also won and remain five points ahead and with two more games (74) played.
The Islanders' final 10 games come against a mix of teams like the Sens, with the Hurricanes twice and the Blue Jackets and Sabres once each, plus playoff contenders including the Lightning twice, plus the Capitals, Penguins, Rangers and Flyers.
So yeah, Wednesday night offered two points they absolutely had to have.
The first period was a shooting gallery with both goalies being called into real action, though sometimes the shots went wide (such as on every failed Islanders power play) or, in the case of poor Brock Nelson, off a foot, which is where he took Ryan Pulock's crippling blast from the point.
Shot attempts were close to even in the first but the Senators had the 10-5 advantage for actual shots on goal. This, despite two Isles power plays which added exactly zero to that tally.
Jean-Francois Berube, making just his fourth start, was key in the first including a couple of dramatic saves. He wasn't needed nearly as much the rest of the game -- almost half his saves came in that first period -- as the Islanders steadily took control with three goals in the middle frame.
The first one came from John Tavares in his 501st NHL regular season game, picking up a rebound of a Josh Bailey shot. That was at the 5:24 mark, but it would be another 10 minutes before the Isles padded their lead and turned a close game into a comfortable third.
At 14:24 Matt Martin capped a great shift of forechecking by the fourth line by deflecting Travis Hamonic's point blast past Andrew Hammond. Not sure if Martin's leg contact had any influence on the direction of the puck, but he probably has the bruise to prove it.
Just 21 seconds later, and with an Isles icing in between, Brock Nelson made no mistake with a one-timer from the low right-wing circle after ex-Senator Shane Prince fished the puck out from behind the net and fed Nelson in one swoop.
That gave the Isles a 3-0 lead heading into the third, which ended up being a sleepy period. Berube's shutout was broken by Mark Stone, the guy he robbed to keep the score at 0-0 in the first, but that was it. Shots were 5-5 in the final frame.
How They Saw It
Berube, who made 22 saves, was team-focused about his role in breaking the Isles slump:
"I think we played with a little bit kind of desperation out there. We were in a little bit of a slump but we trust the group we have here. Everyone trusts each other. We came out and scored three big goals in the second period then stayed tight and controlled the game after that."
With back-to-back games Friday and Saturday on the road, it's a safe bet Berube will start one of those too. Jack Capuano discussed Berube's role in this with Jaroslav Halak on the sidelines and Thomas Greiss coming a bit back down to earth with the extra work:
"When you have two guys, that are battling - it's all about healthy competition. Whether it's on your back end, or the forward position or in goal. He's (Berube) playing well. We have faith in both guys that if they get in there they are going to help us do the job. We've got back-to-backs coming up again. We've got a lot of hockey... We've got to utilize our guys."
Could it have gone differently? Always, yes. Capuano talked about overcoming the missed opportunities in the first:
"We have to fight through that mentally. The power plays were not very good for us at all. It really can hurt the momentum and the surge that you have. Right off the bat, we had two of them and it didn't do us any justice that we didn't generate much. Again, we stayed with it and we came back in the second and third. I thought we played pretty well. Our penalty kill came up big when it had to and Berube did too."
Means Nothing But Is Funny
No kidding, it took Berube not two, not three, not four, but five tries to toss the souvenir puck over the glass to the fans after he was named first star. Figure teammates won't let him forget that one if they catch wind of it.