Semyon Varlamov was 13 seconds short of a shutout as the New York Islanders outlasted the New Jersey Devils, 2-1, in the first game with some (1,800) fans back in the building in Newark.
A sleepy game broke the Islanders way in the third period, as the Islanders received goals from Oliver Wahlstrom and Anders Lee. Varlamov finished with 28 saves.
The win brings the Isles into a tie for first in points in the East Division, though other teams all have games in hand.
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Fans in the building
This was the first game where fans were allowed in the [something or other] Center in Newark, so naturally there was also a good dose of...blue and orange.
Nothing better than seeing the blue and orange in Jersey pic.twitter.com/YEEeeHjqTr— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 2, 2021
Cal Clutterbuck was back, which bumped Leo Komarov out of the lineup, and with Oliver Wahlstrom and Michael Dal Colle next to J-G Pageau, it may the Islanders’ best lineup with the current roster.
First Period: We’re here, is this thing on?
The opening period was scoreless and supremely uneventful. The first line had a few strong shifts of sustained pressure that did not translate to many chances. The Devils’ Jack Hughes line had one dangerous shift late in the period.
The Islanders, who seemed to lose every faceoff in the period (15 out of 22, officially), did not help themselves there by whiffing on the only power play, also late in the period.
J-G Pageau had a couple of nifty self-created chances gloved by Aaron Dell, and Ryan Pulock sent an absolute howitzer off the crossbar over Dell’s blocker, the kind of shot that would’ve killed someone if it hit flesh instead. Watching Pulock wind up elicits a titillating mix of anticipation and fear for what might result.
March 3, 2021
Second Period: The same, but with lots of penalties
Early in the second, Andreas Johnsson hit the bar to Varlamov’s left of a pretty feed from Jack Hughes, and then some Islanders penalty troubles began. They were not controversial penalties, but they began to feel like head-scratchers as uncalled infractions accumulated by the other side.
Pulock took a tripping call in the defensive zone, Cal Clutterbuck broke a stick to give the Devils 25 seconds of 5-on-3 on that, and then came the always fun goalie penalty: Semyon Varlamov came out aggressively on a Kyle Palmieri chance and, well, Palmieri made a move so Varlamov kind of tripped him. You can’t do dat, against da rules.
The Devils looked dangerous on the initial power play, but the Isles PK got better as things went on.
Soon after all that, Miles Wood fancied trying a pull-up move on
Matt Andy Greene. It did not work.
Andy Greene tells his old teammate Miles Wood to take a seat pic.twitter.com/mCc1jYcLmP— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) March 3, 2021
(Wood would get some mild revenge late in the game, when he tripped Greene during a battle in front of the net — and the ref — to set up his shutout-breaking goal.)
Generally speaking, the Islanders never got going after all that. Officially, they were outshot 16-5 in the period.
Third Period: That kind of thing feels inevitable when things are going right
The Islanders got the break they were waiting for early in the final frame. Nick Leddy made a high-danger play to elude checkers behind his own net, but Pageau helped get the puck out of danger with a backhand to Wahlstrom.
Wahlstrom led a 3-on-3 rush with speed and...simply ripped it upstairs, through the screening legs of Dmitry Kulikov.
Finally on the board!— Isles on MSG+2 Tonight (@IslesMSGN) March 3, 2021
Wahlstrom makes it 1-0 #Isles pic.twitter.com/ycLOFgMfEj
That one came at 1:10. The Devils responded with some pretty good pushes, but seven minutes later the Islanders doubled their lead through the top line and the captain. A strong shift with some good retrievals by Mathew Barzal and keep-ins by
Matt ANDY Greene led to a simple jam attempt by Lee at the far post.
His first attempt was stopped, but there was daylight over Dell’s left pad to chop the rebound in.
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." - Anders Lee, probably. pic.twitter.com/NwpkQSkqEU— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 3, 2021
Anders Lee has six goals in his last nine games and is now up to a team-leading 10th on the season in Game No. 22.— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) March 3, 2021
He didn't score his 10th goal last year until Game No. 34.#Isles
The Islanders had yet one more penalty to kill before they could fully breathe. Pageau was perplexed to be sent off for tripping after a leg entanglement, removing one of their best penalty killers. But the PK was thorough, and burned two more minutes off the clock.
With nothing generating, the Devils pulled Dell for a sixth attacker with four minutes left. Barzal quickly had a rink length chance at the empty net that hit the post and became an icing call. That was followed by a minute of sustained pressure and a golden chance to make it 2-1, but the shot toward an empty net hit Wood’s skate and went wide.
Brock Nelson was a little too controlled in fetching a Casey Cizikas area pass, and he hit the post of the empty net with a backhand lob. Missing that would hurt a bit.
The Devils finally got on the board when Scott Mayfield misfired on a clear, leaving Yegor Sharangovich with the puck and a chance to set up Wood in front of the net. Wood was battling Greene for ice, pulled Greene’s skate out from under him, and connected perfectly on the short one-timer.
No matter. Another regulation win and two points on the board.
Quote of the Night
Brendan Burke says “Eric Hornick passes us a ‘Did You Know?’ — Did you know Butch Goring once coached the Islanders in a scoreless tie in New Jersey back in December 2000. Do you remember that?”
Goring: “I’m lucky to remember yesterday, Brendan, you know that.”
John Vanbiesbrouck, the former Ranger/Panther/Devil whose 44-game Islander tenure is best forgotten, stopped Patrik Elias on a penalty shot in OT, we learned.
Up Next: Sabres for Three
This was the first of four games in a row against the bottom two teams in the division. The next three are against the Buffalo Sabres, all at Nassau Coliseum, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.