Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas scored third period goals to help lead the Islanders to a 5-3 win over the visiting Colorado Avalanche at Barclays Center Monday night. Once again, the fourth line provided physicality, energy and some offense to help the Islanders overcome a sluggish start.
“They just work, they do the right things,” Isles head coach Jack Capuano said after the game when asked about his fourth line. “You work hard and you get rewarded in life. The way they’re playing right now, they deserve to get rewarded.”
The Islanders came out sluggish early and fell behind 1-0 on a goal by ex-Islander Blake Comeau midway through the opening period. The Isles defensive coverage was weak on the play and goalie Thomas Greiss was screened by Cody McLeod who was left unattended in front of the net.
The Isles power play got them back in the game in the final seconds of the first period. Kyle Okposo scored on a wrist shot that evened things up with less than two seconds left in the opening session and provided the Isles with a boost heading into the locker room.
The Islanders played a solid defensive game in the second period and outshot the Avs 14-4 but the game was still tied 2-2 after 40 minutes. Mikhail Grabovski gave the Isles a 2-1 lead at 6:31 of the period off a nice pass by Ryan Strome, but Jarome Iginla tied it for the Avalanche just 41 seconds later on an unassisted goal.
“We just stuck to our game plan,” winger Josh Bailey said when asked about the team’s strong defense in the second period. “We were keeping them to the outside and limiting their secondary chances and Greiss came up big when we needed him once again.”
But in the third period, it was the Islanders fourth line of Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Matt Martin that ignited the team and provided the winning points.
“They were a catalyst for us tonight,” Isles captain John Tavares said.
Clutterbuck struck first just 1:52 into the period with assists going to Thomas Hickey and Marek Zidlicky. Clutterbuck was down low, beneath the circles and able to convert on the play. Another faceoff win helped set up the scoring chance. The Islanders were strong on draws throughout the game, winning 63 percent of them.
Cizikas added what proved to be the game-winning tally at 8:16 of the third period on an unassisted goal. The play was set up by an aggressive forecheck by Matt Martin and Cizikas lifted a well-aimed wrist shot past Avs starter Semyon Varlamov.
“It just came off the wall perfectly right to me,” Cizikas said. “Their guy was just taking away the left side of the net so I tried to put it about a foot off the ice and I beat him.”
Despite the big offensive production tonight, Cizikas said scoring goals was “the last thing on all three of our minds. We want to be sound defensively, we want to continue to be the hardest-working line on the ice. We’re getting rewarded right now but we’ve got to stick with it and not think that we’re going to be a scoring threat.”
Avs coach Patrick Roy pulled his goalie with more than 4:30 left in the game and it worked as Nick Holden scored with 3:34 left on the clock to pull Colorado to within a goal. But Strome added an empty-net goal to seal the victory for the Isles in the final minute and provide the final 5-3 score.
The fourth line did more than what was expected of them tonight. They delivered timely hits, energized the crowd and their teammates and provided the winning goal.
“Whether they are scoring goals for us or not, they are an impactful line for us every game,” Bailey added. “They always bring high energy and it’s nice to see those guys get rewarded.”
The Islanders return to action Wednesday night when they host the New York Rangers for the first time at the Barclays Center. The game will start at 8 pm.
“There’s a lot of hatred there, there’s a lot of anticipation,” Clutterbuck said. “I expect it to be pretty unique. This is the first time it’s happening in this building. I’m sure it will be exciting.”
Josh Bailey played in his 500th career NHL game, all with the Islanders.
Clutterbuck and Martin tied for the team lead with eight hits each. It was a physical game with the Avs outhitting the Isles 51-49.
The Islanders are now 9-2-1 vs the Western Conference this season.