A career night from Ryan Strome powered the Islanders to a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday evening at MTS Centre.
Strome had four points (one goal, three assists), while linemates Frans Nielsen (two goals, one assists) and Anders Lee (one goal, one assist) each had multi-point games in a convincing victory at Portage and Main.
“It’s not every night that you get four points,” Strome said. “I don’t really like to judge a game based on the points, but obviously it’s nice to contribute. Obviously I think our line had a pretty good game, pretty solid d-zone and it’s always good to help out.”
The Islanders took a 2-0 lead in the opening period, beating Ondrej Pavelec twice as a result of curious bounces. The first goal came off a net-side feed that saw the puck pop straight up, before caroming off both Lee and Strome and crossing the goal line at 10:04. The second goal came eight minutes later, this time on a 5-on-3 power play. Johnny Boychuk broke his stick in half on a point shot, but the puck took a right-hand turn to Nielsen, who buried into a yawning cage for his first of the game.
“A couple of the bounces went our way,” Lee said. “The broken stick to Frans was great and a little bounce in front for me. But you get rewarded when you work hard and create those opportunities. Tonight, that’s what happened.”
The Jets got one back early in the second period just as Andrew Ladd scored the first of his two goals. Winnipeg’s captain skated in undetected as an Islanders penalty was expiring and buried a Blake Wheeler feed past Jaroslav Halak.
The Islanders didn’t allow the momentum to shift after Ladd’s first strike and 10 minutes later, Nielsen gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead with his second of the game, teaming up with Strome for a beautiful give-and-go play. Nielsen won the puck along the boards, charged up the wing, left a drop pass for Strome and got open. Strome looked off a shot and fed Nielsen who slammed a one-timer past Pavelec.
“Our goals were the beneficiary of hard work,” Strome said. “Fransy’s second one was the result of good defensive-zone coverage for 30-40 seconds. We’re just trying to do the right things.”
The Jets did not go quietly in the third period, as Ladd cut into the Islanders lead with his second of the game, 47 seconds into the final frame. The Islanders responded again, as Lee and Strome grinded away around the Jets crease, before Lee beat Pavelec high from the goal line. Josh Bailey iced the game with an empty-netter in the final minute.
“We closed this one out before overtime and it feels good just to regain that confidence if we lost it a little bit,” Strome said. “This team is very comfortable in the third periods. It was just a matter of some bad luck and some bad bounces, but it went our way tonight.”
Jaroslav Halak made 21 saves for the Islanders, who improve to 5-0-1 in six trips to Winnipeg since the Jets reboot. With the win, the Islanders grab a share of first place to end the calendar year for the first time since the 1987-88 season.
The Islanders continue their seven-game road trip Friday night in Calgary when they take on the Flames. Puck drop is at 9:00 p.m. eastern time.