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New York Islanders

Brocktober: Nelson’s Late third-period Goal Gives Islanders Game 3 Win

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Islanders celebrate Brock Nelson's game-winning goal in Game 3

Since Wednesday’s last-second loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has said he likes his team’s process and the Eastern Conference Final was close to changing direction.

At least for one game, the Trotz’s words were prophetic.

Brock Nelson’s goal with 3:25 left in the third period delivered the Islanders a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay in Game 3.

The Islanders, who blew a two-goal lead earlier in the third, are now down 2-1 in the series.

“I’ve been preaching about this group, this group is special with the resiliency,” Trotz said after Friday night’s game. “This is our fourth series, not our third. We’ve had to battle through double overtime losses, a lot of different things. Our first game getting into this bubble and losing the way we did.

“That says a lot for this group to be able to mentally park it and focus on the moment.”

Off a Tampa Bay defensive zone turnover forced by Nelson, Josh Bailey set the play up to Anthony Beauvillier who had a pass initially blocked before flung a blind pass to Nelson on the right for a shot that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on the far side.

“It’s nice to get a bounce back win,” Nelson said. “A lot of guys are big for us, (Semyon Varlamov) was big. Obviously on that play Beau made a nice play. … It’s nice to get that win.”

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In a back-and-forth game with plenty of momentum swings, the Islanders finished 0-for-2 on the power play and failed to kill off their one penalty, but Varlamov was strong in net otherwise. He made 34 saves on 37 shots overall, including six high danger shots.

The teams traded four goals in the third period, but the Islanders got the final two to win their first Conference Final game in 27 years.

Leading the way with two points, Nelson’s effort could not be understated after what he encountered in Game 2, according to Trotz. It was Nelson who took the brunt of Alex Killorn’s boarding penalty that led to a one-game suspension for the Tampa Bay forward.

“Brock’s a little bit, I would say, under-the-radar to a lot of people,” Trotz said. “He’s grown so much over the years and he’s battling after that last game. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t surprised, knowing Brock. He just so determined and said, ‘I’m going to bounce back.’ He’s resilient so I really liked his game.”

The Islanders got ahead a little more than halfway in the first period on Cal Clutterbuck’s second goal of the playoffs. After Jean-Gabriel Pageau missed a golden chance at the side of the net, Vasilevskiy fumbled with his right leg pad as a strap came loose.

As the puck remained in the zone, it bounced to Clutterbuck and he buried it high blocker side.

But similar to Game 2, Tampa Bay answered back quickly with a Mikhail Sergachev goal at 16:31. Yannni Gourde slid the puck low past Clutterbuck and the defenseman jumped into the play and roofed a backhander over Varlamov’s glove.

Shortly after a missed power play in the second, Mathew Barzal grabbed the puck along the nearside wall and fed Pageau in the slot. Adam Pelech skated into the left circle and grabbed a Pageau pass and ripped a shot by Vasilevskiy’s glove at 11:50.

With the goal, Pelech became the 17th different goal-scorer this postseason for the Islanders. Only the 1983 playoff team (18 different scorers) had more.

Exactly two minutes later, Beauvillier padded the lead on a play all set up by Nelson.

Nelson skated in the slot and dragged to his backhand but instead of shooting he circled behind the net. As he turned around he fired a pass in front of the crease to Beauvillier, who notched his ninth goal of the playoffs.

Two and a half minutes into the third, Tampa Bay answered on the power play. Jordan Eberle took a holding penalty in the offensive zone, which led to Ondrej Palat’s goal. Tyler Johnson knotted things up when he redirected a point shot with 7:56 left.

But it was Nelson who answered back with a goal and his second point of the night.

Vengeance Thy Name is Brock! Nelson Goal Proves Extra Satisfying in Game 3 Win | NYHN+

“Obviously it’s disappointing when you have a lead going into the third, chance to win a game and get back in the series and you give it up,” Nelson said. “But we stuck with it and stayed the course and kinda got right back on it.”

Pageau sealed the win with an empty-netter wit 36 seconds left. He was whacked on the play by Nikita Kucherov, leading to pushing and shoving after the whistle. On the ensuing draw, Matt Martin and Barclay Goodrow dropped the gloves.

“I think he’s a competitor and I think he was trying to get his stick on puck and he got the back of my leg, so it wasn’t too close,” Pageau said of Kucherov. “We’re going to battle everyone, everyone on our team tonight competed for a full 60 (minutes).”

Pageau picked up two points after filling centering in Casey Cizikas’s usual spot. After the game, Trotz said it’s still unclear if Cizikas will suit up for the next game.

Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m as the New York Islanders look to even up the series.

“I didn’t like that we took that early penalty, give Tampa some momentum in the third and then they get it tied up on a tip. We sorta got our composure back and playing again,” Trotz said. “And that’s what I liked about our group.”

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New York Islanders

Rosner: Play of Jean-Gabriel Pageau Integral in Islanders Victory Over Devils

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Jean-Gabriel Pageau

The New York Islanders did not put their best skate forward in their 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils last night. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was brilliant and Oliver Wahlstrom shined yet again.

But the play of a center Jean-Gabriel Pageau caught my attention.

Whether it was winning a defensive-zone faceoff, laying a hit, or scoring a big goal, Pageau seemed to always do something that positively impacted the game for the Islanders night in and night out. Pageau has been red-hot as of late and that trend continued on Tuesday.

The 28-year old forward finished the game with an assist, four shots on goal, four blocks, and one steal to cap off his impressive performance. Pageau helped the Islanders get on the board first when he helped spring Wahlstrom with a pass that led to the game’s first goal.

Unfortunately, Pageau’s outlet pass did not make the highlight reel. What also failed to make the cut was his positioning in his own zone. It allowed him to pick up a loose puck following a Nick Leddy mishandle before feeding his linemate with ease.

On that goal, Jean-Gabriel Pageau recorded his 100th career NHL assist, which came in career-game number 457. His ability to make simple plays such as that pass makes him the perfect linemate for Wahlstrom, who currently finds himself on a five-game point streak.

After the game, Wahlstrom was asked about the growing confidence he has displayed over the last couple of weeks. He attributed that boost to his teammates.

While he did not specifically mention his linemate, we all know how integral Pageau’s play has been to his growth at the NHL level.

“I’m kind of falling in love with the details of my game, the little details,” Wahlstrom said. “I feel like that’s helping. It’s bringing me more enjoyment to the game, and I’m thinking less about production and everything. I’m just focusing on the little details.”

The big takeaway is that Wahlstrom is thinking less. I attribute some of that to the ease that comes with playing alongside Pageau. When you can rely on a linemate to make those big plays to get you the puck or cover back on defense when you make a mistake, it allows you to focus on your game.

Wahlstrom does not have to worry about every little detail when he is on the ice with no. 44.

New York Islanders Proving Patience Works with Young Stars Wahlstrom, Dobson, Sorokin

Besides dishing pucks to his teammate, Jean-Gabriel Pageau had opportunities to score as well throughout the contest. All four of his shots on New Jersey netminder Aaron Dell came in-tight, with three of them being considered high danger scoring chances. But Dell answered the call with his glove each time.

The Ottawa native contributed to 54.57-percent of the Islanders scoring chances when he was on the ice according to Natural Stat Trick.

Even though he only won 47.6-percent of his draws tonight, Pageau was called upon to take nine defensive zone draws. While that percentage is not available, it shows how much his coach believes in him to come up with those big wins. And in a tight game, like we saw last night, key wins in the defensive zone are monumental to the result on the scoreboard. Pageau won 40-percent of his offensive draws, which matched his highest mark over his last eight games.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is not just an offensive player by any means.

Many questions loomed following his arrival about his ability to fit into the defensive system head coach Barry Trotz had in place. However, Pageau’s style has fit perfectly into the system due to his awareness and positioning in his own zone.

New Jersey did not generate one high danger chance on Varlamov when Pageau’s skates were on the ice.

Being a penalty killer was a notable trait for Jean-Gabriel Pageau before joining the Islanders and that skill was on display last night in the win. It has been on display this whole season.  He helped the Islanders kill off three of the four Devil power plays, as he would have been out there for the fourth power-play opportunity had he not been the one serving the two minutes.

Pageau played 1:07 minutes on the penalty kill tonight.

To end the game, Pageau took the final faceoff at center ice after the Devils scored with 14 seconds remaining on the clock to make it a 2-1 game. Due to his awareness and hockey IQ, he pushed the puck forward to eliminate any chance of a puck coming into the Islanders’ zone.

It was a beautiful way for him to end a strong showing in New Jersey.

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New York Islanders

Islanders’ Special Teams Delivers Again in Win Over Devils

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Islanders and Devils

In what was an overall low-event hockey game, the New York Islanders’ gritted their way to a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

Goals — and shots — were both at a premium and the Islanders were up to the task even after New Jersey grabbed control in the second period.

While the Islanders’ power-play thrived in February and now has them 12th overall in the league (24.6 percent success rate), it was the penalty killers that staved off the Devils barrage in the middle period.

It was subsequent minors to Ryan Pulock and Cal Clutterbuck that put the Islanders in a precarious 5-on-3 situation in a then-scoreless game. Just off those two penalties New Jersey generated six shots on net, all saved by netminder Semyon Varlamov. But it was Varlamov who took a rare penalty with a tripping halfway through the period and put the Islanders a man short for two minutes.

In that stretch, Varlamov didn’t have to do much work, making one save on Damon Severson from the right circle before the penalty expired.

Even with all of the time on the penalty kill, the Islanders limited the number of Grade-A chances from New Jersey during those sequences. In fact, New Jersey did not register a single high danger chance for at all through the first two periods of the game and only could muster one entirely over 60 minutes.

“Oh it’s huge,” Nick Leddy said of the penalty killing unit. “[The PK] have been great all year. I try and do my best that I can when I get in, but they’ve been a huge staple for us all year and it creates momentum — I believe — for us and takes a little bit of momentum away from the power play.”

Islanders-Devils heat map

As you can see from the heat map from Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders did a good job protecting the net and crease areas and largely contained New Jersey to the perimeter. Even despite the total Corsi disadvantage, the Islanders held a 7-1 edge in high danger chances. Thanks to all the power plays and total chances, the Devils had an astronomical 88.09 expected goals percentage. But thanks to a few key saves by Varlamov and a general lack of wide-open looks, the Islanders penalty kill remained intact.

“How you manage their best, it might be for half a period, it might be five minutes, it might be a couple of shifts, if you don’t manage them very well you probably give up too much,” Barry Trotz said. “Then you’re chasing the game a little bit. We’re learning to manage our not-so-good moments and we’re taking advantage of our good moments.”

It was much of the same on New Jersey’s last power-play try in the third, which actually resulted in the Islanders getting the only shot on goal during Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s tripping minor.

For a team that’s not going to generally get into a track meet, the Islanders bread-and-butter game comes down to good positional play and being opportunistic on special teams. Since they’ve found a groove this year, that’s been the tried and true formula. After Tuesday’s night’s near shutout, the Islanders rank eighth in the NHL in PK percentage (82.8) and seventh in PK net (86.2 percent)

It was two power-play goals that lifted the Islanders to a win Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it was the other side of the coin that helped get them a win in New Jersey.

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New York Islanders

CAUSE FOR CONCERN? Islanders React to News Crosby Placed on COVID List

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Sidney Crosby vs New York Islanders

While the New York Islanders were holding their pregame media availability on Tuesday, word was spreading that Sidney Crosby would be placed on the NHL COVID protocol list.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also canceled their morning skate on Tuesday as part of the COVID-19 protocols. They are still scheduled to face the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Islanders hosted Pittsburgh on Sunday at the Nassau Coliseum, where they defeated their Steel City rival 2-0. Michael Dal Colle was the only Islanders player made available to the media prior to their game with New Jersey on Tuesday and had been unaware of the developments prior to stepping to the podium.

“That’s news to me. I wasn’t aware of that,” Dal Colle said when asked by a reporter for a reaction to the news. “Obviously with the COVID protocols, I don’t know if the league is going to step in or something like that. We can only focus on what we’re doing here. We’re ready for a game tonight and it’s a big one.”

Being placed on the COVID protocol list does not mean that a player has tested positive and there are a variety of reasons why one would end up on the list.

The Islanders have managed to keep their team COVID free since the start of the season. Josh Bailey was briefly placed on the COVID protocol list last month after his son received a false-positive result.

The only direct impact that the virus has had on the team this season was in February when a pair of games against the Buffalo Sabres were postponed and rescheduled due to an outbreak on Buffalo.

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