The New York Islanders needed a regulation win against the wild card-positioned Boston Bruins to get us to act like they’re still kind of sort of in a playoff hunt, and they delivered with a strong effort and 4-1 win at home Thursday night.
Once again, the Islanders failed to get the first goal, but overall it was a stronger and sustained effort compared to the 1-3 road trip they just completed. And this time when they tied it at 1-1, they didn’t let up and didn’t let up another.
They got strong efforts from Mathew Barzal and Kieffer Bellows (among others), who stepped back into the lineup after Josh Bailey was scratched for a “day to day” injury. Ilya Sorokin made 26 saves including a couple of big ones at pivotal times, which made up for the low-angle goal he conceded late in the first period.
In a nice bit of trivia, this was the Islanders’ sixth consecutive home win over the Bruins, the first time in franchise history they’ve pulled off a string like that.
The Isles didn’t exactly have a dominant start, but it was a well-played opening period and if this season didn’t already feel cursed, you’d have felt like it was the recipe for a 2019-21 era Trotzian win.
But after the two teams traded failed power plays midway through the period, Taylor Hall — who had a very active game and posed lots of danger — sniped a high shot from a zero-degree angle to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead with 2:34 remaining in the period. The crowd gasped, the building then went quiet, and the atmosphere became pure “here we go again.”
But no! The Islanders came out with purpose in the second, no sign of deflation. They ended up outshooting the Bruins 13-7, but the equalizer didn’t come until midway through the period on a well-executed power play.
Barzal approached dangerously from the right wing circle and faked, then dropped to Noah Dobson at the point. Dobson’s one-timer was stopped, but J-G Pageau located the rebound first and dove to poke it in at 11:30.
Soon after came Sorokin’s best moment of the night, when he stopped one shot through traffic and then pushed hard to his right to just get his toe on the rebound. That kept the Isles from falling behind immediately after tying it for the umpteenth time this month.
The Isles then got the go-ahead goal fairly early in the third, at 5:50. Sebastian Aho pinched down the left boards to keep play alive, Brock Nelson sent a point pass to Dobson from below the goal line, and Dobson’s shot went by lots of traffic, off the post, off Ullmark and in.
With all the momentum going the Islanders way as they continued to pressure and send chaotic shots Ullmark’s way, Cal Clutterbuck took an interference penalty with a late hit in the slot on Trent Frederic, who tried but hadn’t collected the puck. (This call would prove interesting, given Frederic’s actions a few minutes later.)
Thankfully, the Islanders killed the ensuing penalty with just a few close calls and some solid interceptions. Once the Isles got their lines refreshed after the PK, they picked up where they left off with good pressure.
But the key play started in their own zone, as Adam Pelech skated the puck out from pressure, then made a rush-springing pass under a Bruins stick to send Barzal and Bellows down the right wing. Barzal dropped for Bellows, who cut inside and used Barzal as a screen for an initial shot. Bellows fought off a check to get the rebound, which Ullmark also stopped. But the rebound went to the left wing side of the goal, where Barzal was waiting after circling behind the net.
a Bird's-eye view of this one. pic.twitter.com/0Mo0p4PscG— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 18, 2022
More from Bellows: “Barry just told me to be patient, keep working hard… I know I can help this team.” #Isles— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) February 18, 2022
Frederic, who leveled Bellows as he went for his rebound, reacted to seeing the puck in the net by crosschecking Bellows down again. That’s the kind of thing that used to be routine, but nowadays actual infractions are supposed to be actually called. The celebrating Isles thought about responding with a ruckus, but decided enjoying a rare two-goal lead is preferred. (You can see Frederic’s decision-making in slow motion on the replay below. It’s a bit like watching Brad Marchand’s brain at work.)
It became a three-goal lead with a little over a minute left, after Nelson scored into the empty net from center ice after the Bruins pulled Ullmark with over two minutes left.
At last, the Isles not only won again but finally did so while enjoying a cushion during the final minutes.
Mathew Barzal on the #Isles outlook with trade rumors starting to swirl: “If the wheels feel off, changes will have to be made but no one is talking about that right now.”— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) February 18, 2022
The Canadiens visit Sunday afternoon, after knocking off the Blues in overtime in Montreal tonight.
‘He Was Out Every Night, Helping Somebody’
Bobby Nystrom on his longtime friend and everyone’s buddy, Clark Gillies: