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Islanders 2, Coyotes 0: Playoffs in reach after four-point weekend

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Robin Lehner made an early Jordan Eberle goal stand up.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at New York Islanders
Hip hip hooray.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Robin Lehner made 31 saves at Nassau Coliseum for his fifth shutout as the Islanders made it a four-point weekend with a 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

With the Capitals winning in regulation over the Flyers earlier in the day, the Islanders kept pace just one point (95) behind the Capitals for first in the Metro.

Almost more importantly, the Isles again jumped two points ahead of the Penguins, who carry 93 points into a meeting with the Rangers in Manhattan tomorrow night. With six games to go, a playoff position looks increasingly assured — they can clinch on Tuesday in Columbus — but a fight for home ice and even a division title looks to go down to the wire.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

First Period: Strong start

The Islanders were all over the Coyotes in a free-flowing first period, generating chances from a mix of sustained offensive zone time and rushes on the counterattack.

Jordan Eberle opened scoring on one such rush, led by Nick Leddy, whose rebound Eberle lifted past Darcy Kuemper just 4:37 into the game.

Josh Bailey (before Eberle’s goal) Tanner Fritz, Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal were among those with good chances in tight that Kuemper was able to block and hold on to — or in Bailey’s case, a defenseman blocked with Kuemper out of position.

But the Isles couldn’t get a second goal, and amid the free flow the Coyotes were able to get their share of shots, too, with total shots on target logged as 10-9 for the home team. New York’s defensemen were mostly efficient with their gap control and breaking up Coyotes approaches in the neutral zone, but the frequency of rushes afforded the Islanders actually led to some opportunities for the visitors.

‘Snipers in the Building’

With the clock winding down on the period, Kuemper took a nudge from Nelson in tight after an airborne rebound, then tried to make a meal out of it by dramatically holding his head and flopping forward. (There was never any contact with his head.) The refs weren’t having it, but it led to some jawing at the buzzer, and a slash from Kuemper on Nelson, behind the officials trying to separate them.

Second Period: Status Quo

The middle period was more of the same: shots 12-11 for the Islanders in a game that could go either way but for some goaltending and unburied chances.

The Islanders finished the period with an outstanding, hemming-in shift in which Barzal was leveled midway through but got right back up to continue creating dangerous chances. The buzzer sounded before Barzal or his linemates could convert, leaving them to go straight to the gate hunched over from leaving it all out there.

Seriously, just look at his shift:

Third Period: Breathing Room

The third period saw the first and only two power plays of the game, and they had some pivotal moments.

Tanner Fritz continued to impress in his callup (I’m not saying told you so I’m just saying there was some hope), using his speed and persistence to single-handedly kill a healthy chunk of the Coyotes’ power play. That drew a standing cheer from the bench and an ovation from the crowd.

Five seconds after that power play expired, Brock Nelson drew a holding call on Jason Demers. However, instead of using the extra man to extend the lead, the Isles’ struggling power play nearly coughed it up to an old friend.

Michael Grabner, who’s gotten better at breakaways since he left the Island, had the shorthanded breakaway and made a decent high shot to force a good stretching save from Lehner, who also had to be alert for the rebound.

Meanwhile, the Isles were in full-on Trotz Prevent mode, focusing on limiting the danger of ample Coyotes shots and awaiting their chance to pounce on an insurance goal.

It finally came via Nelson, who followed up an offensive zone faceoff to rush a wraparound that just barely got over the line off of Kuemper’s skate blade.

The officials on the ice didn’t initially rule it a goal — Leo Komarov was stabbing at the rebound after the puck had come back out — but Nelson knew right away, and video review was brief and conclusive.

That brought the crowd to its feet, serenading for the final three minutes of regulation. The Coyotes pulled Kuemper for a sixth attacker but didn’t really threaten to make it uncomfortable again.

Up Next

The Islanders’ absurd final-weeks schedule continues this week with games in Columbus Tuesday and Winnipeg Thursday, before returning home Saturday for a meeting with the Sabres and one more visit from the Leafs on Monday.