The New York Islanders top line was in top form Saturday, combining for 11 points as the Islanders broke open a 3-3 game and upended the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3 at Nassau Coliseum.
John Tavares (two goals, two assists) and Anders Lee (four assists) each had four points, while Josh Bailey scored two goals and an assist, as the Islanders won their fourth straight game. Tavares scored both of his goals in the third period, adding the insurance after Frans Nielsen broke the deadlock 1:54 into the final frame.
Saturday’s win was the Islanders’ fourth in a row and by far the most convincing offensively.
“For the most part we dictated that game,” Tavares said. “They fought back and got into it, but we seemed to keep the momentum and not let them really try to turn the tide. We felt that especially with them having to play last night and travel that we would wear them down and eventually put them away.”
The Islanders took advantage of a tired Blue Jackets team and a rookie goalie, pressing them hard in the early going. Bailey scored two goals before the Blue Jackets had two shots, as the Islanders looked to make a statement early.
Bailey’s first came on the Islanders’ first shot of the game, as a Tavares feed was lost in Lee’s skates, before Josh Bailey swooped in, picked up the puck and beat Anton Forsberg with a high wrister at the 1:07 mark.
The early momentum carried on, as the Islanders outshot the Blue Jackets 9-1 in the opening nine minutes, not counting Mikhail Grabovski’s shot off the crossbar.
The top line hooked up again on Bailey’s second goal, as Tavares circled behind the net and dished to Bailey for a sharp-angled one-timer. Bailey threaded the needle, sniping over Forsberg’s shoulder.
“Johnny is a world-class player, he makes the guys around him better,” Bailey said. “When you get that opportunity you want to step in and do the job.”
Brandon Dubinsky pumped some air back into the Blue Jackets scoring on a two-on-one rush at 15:45. Cam Atkinson was the recipient of a gift breakaway – the puck skipping over Brian Strait’s stick at the blue line – and tied the score with 31.5 seconds to play in the first period.
The Islanders responded with a dominating start to the second period, outshooting the Blue Jackets 16-1 in the first 14 minutes. Forsberg denied Lubomir Visnovsky’s slap shot, but Ryan Strome took the puck around the fallen goaltender and restored the Islanders advantage at 7:02.
The Blue Jackets weathered the storm, hung around and once again tied the score in the period’s final minute. Artem Anisimov played give-and-go with former Islander James Wisniewski before feeding Nick Foligno on a backdoor play.
“We were disappointed with the way the second period finished and a couple of the goals that we gave up,” Tavares said. “We knew we were doing a lot of good things and controlling most of the play, so we just wanted to keep that momentum, keep that going.”
Nielsen put the Islanders ahead for good early in the third, tapping in a slap-pass from a pinching Thomas Hickey. The Islanders pulled away from there, their legs looking fresher than the tired Blue Jackets, as Tavares netted his pair. First, Tavares corralled an Anders Lee rebound in the slot, spun off Wisniewski and beat Forsberg with a high snap shot at 7:08. Four minutes later, the captain took a drop pass from Bailey, skated alone into the slot and beat the rookie for his team-leading 26th, putting an exclamation point on a four-win week.
“We know what we can do in the third period as a group,” Travis Hamonic said. “We came out and had a great third period, top-to-bottom. Jaro played great, he made some big saves, our penalty kill was really good and we got the goals when we needed them.”
Halak made 34 saves for the win, while Forsberg stopped 40-of-46 in the loss.
The Islanders wrap up a four-game homestand Monday night against the New York Rangers. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.