John Tavares’ goal in the third round of the shootout extended the New York Islanders points streak to 10 games (8-0-2), and put the Islanders one step closer to the playoffs in a 5-4 victory over the Winnipeg Jets Saturday at MTS Centre. With the win, the Islanders improve to 24-16-5 (53 points), jumping Ottawa for sixth place in the Eastern Conference and equaling fifth-place Toronto in points.
The Islanders led three times during regulation, but the Jets, hanging on to playoff hopes of their own, tied the game late in regulation with the goalie pulled on a Bryan Little power play goal to force overtime and make Saturday’s contest a three-point game in the standings.
“It was a great game,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “Both teams really worked hard. We didn’t win the faceoff on that late penalty kill, but things happen. They got a puck to the net and got a good rebound to tie it. But our guys battled back hard today.”
Frans Nielsen opened the scoring four minutes into the first period with his sixth goal of the season. He took a feed from Kyle Okposo on the left side and beat Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec at the 4:21 mark.
Midway through the opening frame, Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian tied the score with a one-timer from the top of the right circle. Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler attacked the zone, and Wheeler fed the pass to a trailing Bogosian, who netted his fifth marker of the year.
But a minute-and-a-half later, Josh Bailey re-established the Islanders lead with his 10th goal of 2012-13. Bailey and Okposo cycled the puck in the Jets zone, and the left wing was able to step into his shot from the right circle to beat Pavelec.
Just before the halfway point in regulation, Matt Martin extended the Islanders lead on a one-timer. Jesse Joensuu took advantage of a stick-less Jets defenseman and threw it from the corner back to Martin in the left circle. Martin’s fourth tally of the season made it 3-1, 9:47 into the second period.
The two-goal cushion was short-lived, as Kyle Wellwood scored to make it 3-2 just 40 seconds later. Evander Kane’s shot from the left wing boards was saved, but Wellwood had an easy rebound and buried it into the Islanders goal. Wellwood broke behind the defense three minutes later after a high flip pass from Grant Clitsome. He deked to his forehand before beating Evgeni Nabokov top shelf at 13:24.
The game remained tied until nine minutes into the third, when Michael Grabner scored a go-ahead goal. Colin McDonald chased the puck down the right wing boards, absorbing two hits as he fed the puck to the front. Grabner was camped in the slot, and one-timed it in before Pavelec could get across.
But a late Winnipeg power play, coupled with an extra Jets attacker, led to the tying goal. Nabokov stopped the original shot from Grant Clitsome, and Andrew Ladd quickly fed the rebound across to Little on the left side, who pumped it into the open goal.
“We were playing a good team, we were playing a desperate team, and we were playing them at home,” Nabokov said of the back-and-forth play. “Sometimes the game is going to go that way. But we stuck with the game plan.”
The teams exchanged golden scoring chances during the extra period, with Clitsome ringing a shot off the post and Lubomir Visnovsky getting in the way of a rebound opportunity to save the game. A minute later, Pavelec stymied Nielsen to keep the game going. Tavares missed on an opportunity in the final 30 seconds, and the teams skated into the shootout.
Blake Wheeler and Mike Santorelli went first and second for the Jets in the shootout, with neither player finding the target. Brad Boyes scored in the bottom of the second round, putting the game on Ladd’s stick in the third round. He beat Nabokov with a forehand to keep the Jets hopes afloat, but Tavares ended things moments later. After making a pair of hard pump fakes, Tavares snapped a shot off the inside of Pavelec’s pads before it rolled in.
“There was a lot on the line tonight, and in the last week of the season especially, every win is big,” Tavares said. “With where both teams were sitting in the standings, we knew what the game was going to be like. We’re happy we were able to pull it out after squandering a couple leads.”
Nabokov finished with 24 saves, tying San Jose’s Antti Niemi for the league lead with his 23rd win of the season.
The result keeps the Jets one point behind the Rangers for eighth place in the standings. The Islanders have a four-point lead on Winnipeg, with three games remaining for each side.
If Winnipeg loses to Buffalo on Monday, the Islanders could clinch a postseason berth on Tuesday, when they head south to take on Carolina. The Islanders-Hurricanes matchup is set for 7:00 p.m.
Notes: The Islanders have won three straight and remain undefeated in regulation during the month of April (8-0-2) … Lubomir Visnovsky registered two helpers for his second-consecutive multi-assist game … The Islanders out-shot the Jets 33-28, marking the ninth straight game in which they finished with more shots than their opponent … The Islanders improve to 14-5-2 on the road this season; Only Pittsburgh (17) and Chicago (17), who sit atop their respective Conferences, have more wins away from home this season … The Islanders went 0-for-5 on the man advantage, while Winnipeg went 1-for-3 … Brian Strait returned to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 18, registering 15:56 of ice time, shot on goal and a plus-1 rating … Travis Hamonic led the team with 26:10 of ice time and five blocked shots, while adding five shots on goal … John Tavares led all players with six shots on goal … The Islanders won the faceoff battle 35-29, led by Tavares (16-of-22, 73%) and Kyle Okposo (8-of-10, 80%) ... The Islanders magic number for clinching a playoff spot is 3; of the teams not currently in the top-8, Winnipeg can achieve the highest point total (55).
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
16 Andrew Ladd - 18 Bryan Little - 26 Blake Wheeler
9 Evander Kane - 12 Olli Jokinen - 13 Kyle Wellwood
27 Eric Tangradi - 8 Alex Burmistrov - 15 Mike Santorelli
17 James Wright - 21 Aaron Gagnon - 22 Chris Thorburn
24 Grant Clitsome - 33 Dustin Byfuglien
6 Ron Hainsey - 44 Zach Bogosian
5 Mark Stuart - 4 Paul Postma
31 Ondrej Pavalec
35 Al Montoya