Islanders nip Devils in return from long layoff

That is, at least, a start.

Following an 11-day layoff in which the Islanders sat idle in the bottom of the Metropolitan Division while the rest of the league played, they finally got back on the ice Thursday night. And, despite some straggling early in the game, Mathew Barzal scored at 15:07 of the third period and the Islanders notched a much-needed 3-2 win over the Devils, moving within a game of .500 (11-12-6) and taking the first step in what they hope will be a push back into contention.

The Islanders didn’t have much rust after their last long layoff in December, and they didn’t this time either. Despite a slow start, they won a third straight, continuing to build on a series of good performances dating back nearly a month.

Things looked as if they might spiral for the Islanders after two straight penalties in the third period resulted in Nathan Bastian redirecting a game-tying goal past Ilya Sorokin with 9:35 to go. But the Islanders showed the sort of composure that had been lacking earlier in the season.

Barzal delivered the game-winning goal less than five minutes later, shooting one by Jon Gillies from the slot off Josh Bailey’s feed at the end of a four-on-four.

Mathew Barzal scores the game-winning goal in the Islanders’ 3-2 win over the Devils.
Getty Images

The Devils emptied their net with two minutes to go, but came up short despite a golden chance on a scramble in front of the net with a minute left in the game.

At 9:43 of the first period, the Devils took a 1-0 lead after Sorokin failed to stop Yegor Sharangovich’s wrist shot from the point, the puck passing through his pads and dribbling into the back of the net. A few minutes later, the crowd seemed frustrated when the Islanders failed to take advantage on the power play, instead getting called for a penalty of their own 40 seconds into the man-advantage. But they didn’t make the same mistake the next time the Devils committed a penalty.

Anders Lee mixes it up with the Devils' Andreas Johnsson during the second period of the Islanders' win.
Anders Lee mixes it up with the Devils’ Andreas Johnsson during the second period of the Islanders’ win.
Robert Sabo

Bailey tied the game at one at 18:59 of the first, knocking in Anthony Beauvillier’s rebound from the slot to make it five straight games with a power-play goal for the Islanders.

Midway through the second, the Islanders took the lead, going up 2-1 on Adam Pelech’s first goal of the season, a bouncing shot that went through Zach Parise’s screen before it beat Gillies at 9:22. Parise notched his second assist of the night on the goal.

The Devils, by points percentage, are worse than the Islanders, and they played down seven players, including their top two goaltenders, Thursday due to COVID-19 protocol.

Gillies wasn’t at all bad for the Devils in net, stopping 23 shots. Sorokin turned aside 29, playing solidly aside from his error on the Devils’ first goal.

The Islanders are facing a slog with their upcoming schedule. They are scheduled to play three games in four days starting Saturday — a pace unlikely to slow for the remainder of the season — and the margin for error is thin.

But the first milestone in the climb back, reaching .500, is within sight. Thursday made it a five-game point streak. The Islanders, make no mistake, are playing well again.