The NHL’s Eastern Conference playoff picture is far from settled with a month left in the regular season, but the Islanders are surging at the right time to strengthen their hold on a playoff spot and make a run at home-ice advantage in the first round.
Two goals from their top power-play unit and a late save by defenseman Travis Hamonic propelled the Isles to a 2-1 win over the Penguins Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
Jaroslav Halak had made 31 saves, allowing only a Kris Letang equalizer at 13:13 of the first, before departing with an injury with 4:22 left in the game. Thomas Greiss finished the third and made three saves, but Hamonic’s stop was the preserver. Phil Kessel had an open net with four seconds left but Hamonic blocked the shot with his right skate to preserve the win.
Jack Capuano had no update on Halak’s condition after the game. The Islanders (37-20-7, 81 points) play again Wednesday in Toronto.
John Tavares celebrates a first period goal which puts the Islanders up 1-0.
“I don’t think there’s a guy you want coming in in relief more than him,” John Tavares said of Greiss.
The Isles have won four straight games and are 11-2-1 in their last 14. They pulled five points ahead of Pittsburgh (34-24-8) in the Metropolitan Division with two games in hand and kept pace by remaining three points behind the second-place Rangers, who won Tuesday night in Buffalo.
Anders Lee deflected a Nick Leddy shot at 8:55 of the third period for the game-winner after shoving Kris Letang to the ground during a battle in front of the net. The goal was Lee’s 12th of the season.
Jaroslav Halak makes 31 saves in net before leaving with an injury.
Capuano called Lee “fearless” and praised him for his physical net-front play while calling on his teammates to do the same.
“He’s done it, and some other guys need to do it, to be honest with you,” Capuano said. “I’m not gonna single anybody out, but the way that it’s a game of inches, you have to fight for every inch that’s on that ice.”
Tavares put the Isles up 1-0 nine seconds into a power play at 8:04 of the first period. Frans Nielsen backhanded a pass to Leddy, who swung it cross-ice for Tavares, and the captain’s shot from the top of the right circle deflected off of Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s stick and past Marc Andre-Fleury (25 saves) for the opening tally, which was Tavares’ 24th of the season. Leddy and Nielsen assisted on both goals.
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