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New York Islanders

Islanders Strike Down Lightning In Statement Victory



AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

Elmont, NY- From the instant Patrick Roy took over as the head coach of the New York Islanders, he’s preached that winning must come from playing as unit. However, it was difficult to see Roy’s vision as the team put together a record of 1-2-1 in his first week behind the bench prior to the All-Star break.

But now, the fog is starting to dissipate for the Islanders, especially after six players scored on Thursday night at UBS Arena in a 6-2 statement victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“It’s the commitment the guys made,” Roy said. “Back checking, cutting back and tracking, and blocking shots. Things that don’t require talent but just will, and that’s what we had tonight. The will was phenomenal.”

Noah Dobson opened the scoring for New York at 4:07 of the first period as his cross-ice feed intended for Oliver Wahlstrom deflected off the skate of a Lightning defender.

With an assist from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Dobson’s seventh goal of the season was his third in his last five games.

Tampa drew even when Nikita Kucherov scored with a blast from the blue line to add to his league-leading point total before goals from Mat Barzal and Kyle Palmieri put the Islanders ahead 3-1.

With 4.3 seconds remaining in the first period, Scott Mayfield was charged with a tripping minor that sent the Islanders to the penalty kill. The Lightning’s top-rated power-play unit capitalized early in the second with a goal by Brandon Hagel.

The goal was the kind that would’ve made one’s ears perk up earlier this season as the first sign of an impending Islanders collapse. But the more new head coach Patrick Roy asserts his philosophy, the more the Islanders look like a new team.

Instead of recoiling, the Islanders responded with three unanswered goals.

“It’s nice to have a nice structure, but there’s also the mindset,” Roy said. “What do we want to do if we give up a goal? We talk a lot about that. It’s something that we address. There was maybe a moment where I thought we started losing a bit of our focus, but they’re so receptive right now. We just have a good talk on the bench, and the guys got their focus back.”

Bo Horvat found his 21st goal of the season with an assist from Barzal at 8:18 of the second, tying for the team lead. Perhaps, though, it was the goals that preceded and proceeded Horvat’s that meant most.

In only his second night back from a 24-game stint on injured reserve, Ryan Pulock fired a rocket of a slap shot past Lightning netminder Jonas Johanson for his third goal of the season and first since Dec. 5.

“It always feels good to score,” Pulock said. “Sometimes, they’re harder to find as a d-man, so when you can get on the board like that in kind of a crucial part of the game, it feels good.”

Not to be outdone on his first night back in the lineup, Casey Cizikas beat Johansson off a head fake and a shot on the short side inside the left post. While out with a lower-body injury, all Cizikas could do was watch as the Islanders operated under their new head coach. Getting back in the lineup for the first time in 10 games, Cizikas said Roy came better than advertised.

“You’re engaged the entire time,” Cizikas said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your first shift or your 10th shift to the game. You hear him back there, and you’re ready to go and battle.

“It’s never fun watching the guys compete and not being a part of it. I worked hard to get bac,k and it was exciting. A lot has changed since the last time I played, and I was just trying to get my legs under me, play smart, play hard and be in the right spots.”

Even after being back at full strength for the first time in months, the Islanders couldn’t go a game without avoiding an injury scare.

Brock Nelson was slow to get up after awkwardly falling into the boards due to a hit from Emil Martinsen Lilleberg. He skated off the ice under his own power and returned at the start of the third period.

Leading by four in the final frame, the Islanders protected the house and provided Ilya Sorokin with one of his easiest performances of the season, as he needed to make just 18 saves on 20 shots.

The win was only the seventh by a multi-goal margin this season for the Islanders and it came against a team they trail in the standings. With 56 points and a record of 22-17-12, the Islanders are now just two points back of a playoff spot.

With more wins like the one they had Thursday, the Islanders’ postseason dreams will continue to come into focus.

“It’s a commitment from everybody,” Roy said. “That’s why working as a unit of five offensively, defensively, in the neutral zone, if we continue to do this, I think we’re going to continue to improve as a team.”