Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
After a weekend that saw the Islanders collect only one of four possible points in losses to the Red Wings and Hurricanes, thoughts of a late-season playoff push were temporarily put on hold, especially with results around the league teaming up to go against them.
Then a welcome sight to Brooklyn entered the picture on Monday evening. The Maple Leafs came into the borough with a stable of talented, young, dynamic forwards in Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and, of course, Auston Matthews. But this year, while the team rebuilds its core, defense is the sacrifice. Only Tampa Bay and Philadelphia have allowed more goals in the Eastern conference and to make matters worse for head coach Mike Babcock, Frederick Andersen didn't bring his A or B games, either.
The Islanders, who allowed 10 goals in the back-to-back 5-4 losses to Detroit and Carolina, continued their own inept play in the defensive zone, so what happened on the ice at Barclays Center was completely expected. An offensive explosion with defense worthy of an all-star game led to an exciting, but sloppy, 6-5 overtime win for New York, who have now allowed a whopping 15 goals over their past three games.
With the inconsistent Flyers losing at home to St. Louis 2-0, the Islanders moved to within three points of the final wild card spot in the Eastern conference with three games in hand and a huge four-point tilt upcoming on Thursday in the city of brotherly love.
"Toronto lived up to their billing, but you saw our resiliency. We started forechecking better as the game went along and got better. We got on the horse and gained some energy from the middle of the second period forward," interim head coach Doug Weight said. "Giving up five goals is not ideal, but a win is a win. We have a huge one coming up Thursday in Philadelphia. These kinds of wins are giving me grey hairs though, for sure. I used to love overtime when I was on the left side of Cappy, now that I'm in the middle, I don't like it as much…at all."
The overtime was reason enough to make anyone break out in a stress-induced rash, as the Islanders are not known to be a good overtime team, often overstaying shifts or breaking sticks to create situations which, with the three on three format, have led to their poor record. But this overtime was different and led by Josh Bailey, who has been written about plenty on the pages of SNY but not talked about enough postgame, according to Weight.
"I don't get a lot of questions about Josh, its funny," Weight said. Great year, probably one of the best two players on the ice tonight. He has that look in his eye, wants to produce and contribute not every three games but every single night. Very proud of him."
Bailey was instrumental and effective all night, producing three points and five shots in 18:42. His chip play at the New York blueline was a simple thing of beauty and led to Brock Nelson burying the game winner with a wicked wrist shot for his second tally of the night that gave the Islanders the bonus point before we could ever get to the bogus skills competition.
Ryan Strome was another player who had a big impact, and after being invisible for half the season, he has awakened to Weight's message, producing 2-4-6 in his last five games, currently carrying a four-game point streak into the game against the Flyers.
"We talk about Ryan engaging and being responsible defensively. He's not skiing, moving his feet and shooting the puck," Weight said. "I don't want to shorten his leash, but I've told him I need better plays at certain times, especially defensively, and he's done that. I want to see fire, deceptiveness and nice plays. He's a skill guy - he's producing and starting to get results."
So while New York is riding a 7-1-2 streak over their last 10 games, collecting 80 percent of all possible points to keep themselves in the race, they also know they are going to have to tighten up from their blueline back to their goal crease for this run to continue. There is no way a winning streak with any legitimacy is going to be continued allowing five goals per game.
"We've had Breakdowns at the wrong time, but overall are not allowing many chances or shots," Strome said in the winning locker room. "When we make a mistake, it's a big one lately. Good thing is we're scoring goals and found a way to get a big win tonight. Keep marching forward, this is a feel good game, shows a lot of confidence and poise in this team. This time of year, you need those kinds of wins."
They will need another of 'those kind of wins' on Thursday against a team they have historically struggled against, to the tune of a 99-128-26 lifetime record. New York has dropped both games this season between the two, by identical scores of 3-2 -- one in overtime and one in a shootout. Should they want to remain in the playoff conversation, these are the kinds of games they simply must find a way to extract two points from.