Brock Nelson scored a third-period hat trick and Semyon Varlamov stopped 37 shots — 16 in the third — as the New York Islanders extended their points streak to six with a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars.
The game was close throughout, but the Isles recovered from a late second-period equalizer to build a two-goal cushion on goals by Nelson early in the third. The Stars got one back, however, making for a nailbiter down the stretch and setting the stage for Nelson’s third into an empty net during the final minute.
The win extends the Isles’ too-late-but-fun run to 5-0-1 over their last six games. With 23 games to go, they remain acres away from the Eastern wild card spot. But now they’re two games over NHL .500.
First Period: No penalties, no goals
No penalties — and no real appeals for calls — meant it was a swift, all 5-on-5 period. The Stars had the first six shots on goal and Varlamov had to be sharp, spotting shots from angles and through traffic.
The Islanders’ first chance came on a counterattack, with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier doing a give-and-go into the Stars zone but ultimately undermining their effort with passes that handcuffed each other.
The Isles had a few more pushes throughout the period. Casey Cizikas had a good look after streaking through the neutral zone with the boost of a Cal Clutterbuck pass, and Clutterbuck had a good one-timer look. But the Isles couldn’t get any chances on the interior.
Meanwhile, in the closing minute, Varlamov had to come up big a few more times to keep it 0-0 at the intermission. His final, possibly best save of the period came on a stretch across the crease to block a back hand with just a couple of seconds left.
The Isles exited the ice at the buzzer with fans chanting “Varly, Varly!”
Second Period: Scoring early, conceding late
The middle period started cagily, with back-and-forth play but no big chances in the first few minutes. The Islanders broke through at 3:16 after a good forecheck and an absolute blast from Ryan Pulock.
Adam Pelech led the rush through the neutral zone and made a simple backhand dump for Clutterbuck to pursue into the corner. The Identity Line won the forecheck, Pelech’s shot went around the boards back to Pulock, and Pulock sent what was reported as a 100.8 MPH shot through traffic and under Stars goalie Jake Oettinger.
The Isles’ best chances to increase the lead in the middle of the period were another Pulock bomb and a Zach Parise mid-slot deflection of a Noah Dobson pass.
The lack of penalty calls stood out when the first one came on the softest of “new NHL” slashes while the recipient skated around clutching Beauvillier’s stick between his arm and side. Jacob Peterson held on to that stick while circling in the corner; Beauvillier let go of it to avoid getting a tacky hooking call. As Peterson turned toward the slot, Lee slashed at his stick and got a piece of his glove to draw the call.
The ensuing power play was a little dicey but ultimately Varlamov and the PK units handled it.
The Isles finally got a call of their own with 5:30 left after another good forecheck from the Identity Line. Their power play unit spent the entire time in the Stars zone, worked it well, but didn’t generate an official shot on goal.
A potentially huge swing came late in the period, an exchange of rushes where what could have been a 2-0 score was instead a 1-1 tie headed into the intermission.
The Isles had a nice late chance when Dobson led a rush to create an overlapping three-on-two with Kyle Palmieri, show set up Josh Bailey for a one-timer that Oettinger slid over to stop. The Stars came back and created a 2-on-1, Denis Gurianov finishing a one-timer set up by Peterson.
But the Isles did not let that late-period swing carry over into the third.
Radek Faksa interfered with Parise to get an interference call, and the Isles power play went to work. With Lee creating his typical nuisance in front of the net, Nelson accepted a Dobson pass at the right wing circle and stepped in to snap a shot. Oettinger got his shoulder on it, but the puck caromed up and over the Stars goalie and into the net.
Where has that kind of bounce been all year?
That gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 4:17, and just a minute and a half later, Nelson doubled it.
Lee chipped a puck in, Beauvillier retrieved it from the left wing corner and quickly sauced it across the crease to the opposite circle. Nelson didn’t hesitate in one-timing up high inside the near post.
It would not be smooth sailing for the Isles. A good forecheck by the Stars created the quick turnover they needed. Gurianov pursued Scott Mayfield and won the puck behind the net. Tyler Seguin quickly slipped the puck out front to Peterson, who dropped to one knee to make sure he placed his shot.
Next Palmieri took a stick holding penalty to put the Stars on the power play, and they had some great looks in their attempt to tie.
After the Isles killed that, they averted disaster of a different kind when Thomas Harley’s one-time point shot rode up high at Casey Cizikas’ head. The Isles center dropped right to the ice and play was whistled. No blood though, and it looked like his visor may have softened the blow on the puck’s way to his jaw.
Cizikas went to the bench, but did not leave the game.
The Stars pressed a bit with the sixth attacker, but their best chance was a whiffed one-timer, and the Isles were able to ease pressure. Nelson finished the hat trick on a long-distance empty-net shot right down the middle, with 20 seconds to go, for his 27th of the season.
Hats rained, players hugged and smiled, and the Isles had another win for posterity.
The Isles head to Philadelphia to meet the Flyers Sunday afternoon. Note that this one is televised on TNT.