Kieffer Bellows scored the tying and winning goals, appearing in his first game since Feb. 18 — and just second since Jan. 30 — to give the New York Islanders a huge third-period lift in their first game without captain Anders Lee.
The 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils is the Islanders’ eighth win in a row, extending an 11-game point streak. They’ll go for three in a row over the Devils tomorrow, also in Newark.
First Period: Eventful and a bit messy
The Islanders had an early power play, their first without Anders Lee, and absolutely peppered the Devils goal with shots and near-chances. Bellows took one of the Lee roles by getting some work in front of the net on the power play.
But both units came up empty, and the Devils opened scoring soon afterward. Pavel Zacha beat Semyon Varlamov from straightaway and high in the slot on the rush to make it 1-0 at 6:37.
The Islanders had plenty of chances and outshot the Devils 13-6 in the first period, but overall it was a bit of a sloppy period by their recent standards. Instead of 1-1 it easily could’ve been 3-2 for either side.
It wasn’t until late in the session that Oliver Wahlstrom got the Isles on the board, on a vicious writer on a 3-on-2. The Isles had given up a 2-on-1 at the end of a power play, and Wahlstrom recovered the puck, took it the distance the other way, and unleashed his shot before a backchecker could disrupt him:
Second Period: Meh.
The second was an ugly period, and Semyon Varlamov, who had another quietly strong night, faced 18 shots. (He would face 10 total in the other two periods.)
The Devils got the lead back 64 seconds into the second, with some good forechecking and pressure followed by a sprawling second effort by Janne Kuokkanen after Yegor Sharangovich zinged one off the crossbar.
Adding insult, the Isles lost Josh Bailey for a couple of shifts as his face collided with Kuokkanen’s skate after both had dived for the airborne rebound.
The Islanders’ best chance to tie was on a Casey Cizikas shorthanded breakaway. He took the puck away at the Isles blueline and was off to the races. Right as he was about to shoot, a hustling Jack Hughes dove and knocked him crashing into the net with an uncalled slash. The slash kept him from getting a shot off, and the lone official — the second referee did not come out for the second period — let it go.
NHL reports referee Justin St. Pierre has left the game because of an upper-body injury and will not return. Pierre Lambert was the only ref in the second period— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) March 14, 2021
The Islanders had consecutive power play chances late, the first perhaps a makeup call, the second coming after a comical Devils too many men penalty. But they only created one good chance out of it, a nice Mathew Barzal cross-slot setup for an Anthony Beauvillier one-timer, well anticipated by Mackenzie Not Scott Black Not Wedge wood.
Overall, too much slow decision-making was their undoing.
The Devils had a couple of power plays themselves, and were more threatening. They came off infractions from key Isles defensemen, Adam Pelech with a debatable hook on Miles Wood and Scott Mayfield late for a crosscheck. Mayfield’s carried over for 24 seconds into the third period, with the Isles still down 2-1.
Third Period: You’re the best, Bellows.
The Islanders killed off that remnant, and then Bellows’ time came.
His first goal came at 1:59, when he made a threaded-needle lead pass to Barzal, who drew both defensemen his way down the right wing, which created an opening for him to feed Bellows in the slot. Bellows had to know how much time he had and how much was riding on his shot selection. He didn’t rush it, he picked his spot, and he bured it.
A gutteral yell and double fist pump followed.
Bellows’ second goal came three minutes later, on a beautiful power move that also took advantage of the Devils’ focus on Barzal. Bellows completed an exchange in tight from a caroming puck at center ice and took it down the right wing. He looked across to the slot, enough to buy himself space and get the Devils Barzal-watching. Then he powered around Devils winger Nathan Bastian to the goal line, slipped around the top of the crease and slide the puck past Black Not Wedge wood.
3-2 Isles. Potential season-changer for Bellows.
The game slowed down at that point, just the way Barry likes it when a lead is at hand.
As the final five minutes approached, a question: Bellows had been kept on a short leash before by Barry Trotz, waiting for the youngster to earn his time by adhering to “the details” of the Islanders’ game. Would he get a chance with a one-goal lead late?
Yes. Bellows was out there and a contributor to a good shift with four minutes left, where he, Barzal and Eberle kept the puck in the Devils zone and without taking any exuberant youthful risks.
The Islanders finished off the final few minutes rolling lines and surviving some hairy challenges once the Devils pulled Black Not Wedge wood. Scott Mayfield had a few clearance attempts on his forehand that were kept in the zone, something that Josh Bailey also was guilty of.
But the Isles survived the final push. Two more points in the bag. And a huge third for young Bellows.
The three-game series concludes tomorrow at 5 p.m. The Isles will enter that one, and the second half of this shortened season, still in first place.