Josh Bailey’s eighth and ninth goals of the season proved to be the difference as the Islanders continued their playoff push with a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday at TD Garden.
The Islanders improved to 21-16-4 (46 points), good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, tied with sixth-place Ottawa, who beat Philadelphia Thursday.
“[Boston] is good hockey team,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “It’s a good win for our club. We struggled with them this year, so to come into this building and get the win is a good feeling.”
The win was the Islanders third straight, and eighth in the last 10 games (8-1-1). It also marked the seventh consecutive time New York has held its opponent to two goals or less.
“Our team is playing hard,” Capuano said. “You get rewarded when you play hard and play within the team concept. We gave up the one power play goal where we were running around, but the effort is there every night.”
Bailey’s first of the game put the Islanders ahead 1-0 late in the opening period. Mark Streit led an attack into the Boston zone and dropped a pass to Bailey, who one-timed a blast just inside the elbow of the goal post at the 19:39 mark.
The Islanders skated to intermission with a 1-0 lead, and carried momentum through the first few minutes of the second until Tyler Seguin lit the lamp on the power play to tie the score. After Casey Cizikas blocked a shot, the Bruins had numbers down low in the zone. Gregory Campbell fed the puck across to Seguin, who found a sliver of space above Evgeni Nabokov’s blocker to put Boston on the board at 3:41.
Bailey’s second tally 10 minutes later gave the Islanders the lead for the second time. The winger forced a turnover on a forecheck and led a 2-on-2 rush alongside Kyle Okposo into the Bruins zone. Bailey elected to shoot from high in the zone, his shot hitting Rask’s shoulder, bounced down and trickled just across the goal line before Boston’s Andrew Ference cleared the puck. Frans Nielsen and Streit earned assists on the marker.
With five minutes remaining in the middle frame, Nabokov made perhaps his finest save of the evening on a redirected shot by Chris Kelly just outside the crease. He was tested again late in the third, when Boston’s Ference fired a shot from the point off the stick of Nathan Horton, but the Islanders goalie was equal to the task.
Nabokov turned aside 30-of-31 shots overall, keeping the door closed down the stretch to tie Marc-Andre Fleury and Niklas Backstrom for the NHL lead with his 20th win of the season.
“The guys were doing their jobs,” Nabokov said. “The battle level was unbelievable. Guys are sacrificing the body and playing well. It always takes 20 guys to win a hockey game.”
Following the game, Bailey commented on what it took to beat a Bruins team that had the Islanders number in the two previous meetings this season.
“We’ve been approaching every game the same way, focusing on what we need to do,” Bailey said. “We’ve had some ups and downs throughout the course of the season like any team. But we’re playing the right way and we have confidence. We just want to keep that going.”
And the Islanders will have a chance to do that on Saturday, when they return to the Coliseum to face the New York Rangers. The Rangers have 44 points, and are just two points behind the Islanders and two in front of Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Notes: The Islanders outshot the Bruins 19-8 in the second period, and 36-31 overall … The Islanders went 0-for-1 on the power play, while Boston converted on its lone opportunity … Evgeni Nabokov has stopped 56-of-58 shots (.966 sv%) over his last two games … The win gives the Islanders at least one win against 14 of the 15 Eastern Conference teams; they have yet to beat Carolina in two tries … Thursday marked Josh Bailey’s first multi-goal game since March 29, 2012 vs. Pittsburgh, when he tallied two goals and three assists … Andrew MacDonald had a game-high 26:18 of ice time and blocked four shots … Travis Hamonic led all players with five blocks … Matt Martin led all players with five hits … Matt Moulson took a team-high five shots on goal.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin