It may not have been artistic, but the New York Islanders got a much-needed 6-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils Sunday night at the Barclays Center. Ryan Strome scored twice and added one assist while Andrew Ladd, Casey Cizikas, Jason Chimera and John Tavares also scored for the Islanders. J.F. Berube made 26 saves to earn the victory.
The Islanders improved to 64 points on the season and remained in the thick of the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as they head out on a crucial nine-game road trip that starts Tuesday night in Detroit.
“It wasn’t a Rembrandt,” admitted Islanders interim head coach Doug Weight. “But it was physical, it was hard hockey. There will be ice bags after that weekend, I’m sure.”
Both teams played fairly sloppy hockey and both teams backup goaltenders, Berube for the Islanders and Keith Kinkaid for the Devils, were shaky for long stretches of the game. Still in the end, the Islanders did enough to come away with two points.
“Coming out of yesterday (a 3-2 loss in Newark), it’s a big win,” Weight said. “All’s well that ends well.”
The Devils drew first blood with a power-play goal midway through the opening period. The visitors moved the puck around the ice well and cashed in when Miles Wood deflected home a centering pass by Taylor Hall at 9:15. Hall finished the game with a goal and two assists for New Jersey.
The Islanders evened the contest with 5:27 remaining in the first period when Ryan Strome picked up a loose puck in the slot and beat Kinkaid to make it a 1-1 hockey game after 20 minutes.
Both teams played a physical brand of hockey from the get go. The Islanders outhit the Devils 24-4 in the first period, led by defenseman Johnny Boychuk with four hits.
Casey Cizikas gave the Islanders the lead for good just 2:44 into the period on a wrap-around goal that surprised Kinkaid and slid through a gaping hole between his pads.
“It went through his legs,” Cizikas said after the game with a smile. “I’ll take it.”
Strome netted his second goal of the game at 9:32 when he swooped in and stole a bouncing puck before letting one go from the right circle. The Islanders led 3-1.
New Jersey had a chance to get back into the game when Isles defenseman Dennis Seidenberg was called for tripping, but Ladd added a shorthanded goal with a handful of seconds left on the man-advantage and beat Kinkaid from the right circle. The goalie took a poor angle on the play. The Islanders were up by three goals and seemed in complete control of the hockey game.
But New Jersey refused to quit. Kyle Palmieri pounced on a bouncing puck between the circles and wristed the puck past Berube with 6:39 left in the middle stanza. Then, Steven Santini’s shot bounced off Stephen Gionta and past Berube to pull the visitors to within a goal with just 2:05 left in the second period. The goal was later credited to Joseph Blandisi. The Isles still led 4-3 after 40 minutes but the Devils had the momentum on their side.
The early part of the third period would be crucial, but the Islanders left little doubt in the minds of anybody watching this game which team would take control of the game. The Isles started the third period on the power play after Devils captain Andy Greene took a foolish roughing penalty late in the second stanza. Tavares made New Jersey pay when he took a pass from Strome and beat Kinkaid through the five-hole just 26 seconds into the period to give the Isles a 5-3 lead.
Then, Jason Chimera continued his strong play when he beat Kinkaid high with a wrist shot for his 15th goal of the season just 34 seconds later. The Islanders led 6-3 just 1:00 into the third period and the game was all but over. Hall scored midway through the period to get the Devils a little closer, but the Isles held on for a 6-4 victory.
“We didn’t back down,” Cizikas said when asked about his team’s play. “We played tough all night.”
“I think we played a pretty hard game,” Strome added. “We were tough to play against, we got to the front of the net. I thought we were a pretty gritty team to play against tonight.”
The Islanders outhit the Devils 38-13 for the game with Boychuk leading the way with six hits. Seventeen of the 18 skaters dressed for tonight’s game were credited with at least one hit.
The Islanders now head out on a very important nine-game road trip that will determine whether or not they can stay in contention in the Eastern Conference wild card chase. They open the trip with their final appearance at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit Tuesday night against the Red Wings. the Isles will not return home until March 16.
The game was announced as a sellout with an official crowd of 15,795.
The Islanders now have a point in 11 straight home games (9-0-2).
The Islanders improved to 26-5-3 this season when scoring three or more goals in a game.
The Islanders have 24 games left on their schedule this season with only seven of them coming at home. Their home record is 20-8-6 while the team is just 7-13-4 on the road.