ELMONT, N.Y. — When the New York Islanders have been in need of a big man for a big occasion, Brock Nelson more often than not has been the one to answer the call.
The star center scored two goals on Wednesday night at UBS Arena, including the game-winner, to pace the Islanders to a 4-2 regular-season-finale victory over the Montreal Canadiens that clinched their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“You always want to be the guy that’s counted on and go out there and help the team in any fashion,” Nelson said. “Offensively, I’ve had some good games.”
Nelson’s trademark, deadly wrister on a rush down the wing midway through the first period put the Islanders on the board to ease some early anxiety built around the occasion on Wednesday night. Just 48 hours earlier, their playoff hopes seemed all but dead after an alarming loss to the Washington Capitals saw them lose control of their own destiny.
But the Penguins came up with a stinker themselves just one night later, losing to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks to keep the Islanders in the final Wild Card Spot in the Eastern Conference that required just one point to clinch their fourth postseason berth in five years.
His first goal didn’t get them out of the woods, especially when Rem Pitlick tied it up late in the first. But after Hudson Fasching found a quick reply, Nelson gave the Islanders breathing space in what ultimately was the game-winning goal when he tipped a wrister from defenseman Noah Dobson under Montreal goalie Sam Montembeault.
“Pretty high emotions coming off of the guys and it definitely feels good. I want to enjoy it,” Nelson said. “Like I said, it just feels good right now to know that we got in and give ourselves a chance.”
The high-class finish on Nelson’s second goal was a fitting way to end a career year. The 10-year veteran finished with 36 goals after netting 37 last year — becoming just the 11th Islanders skater in franchise history to record multiple 35-plus-goal seasons — while posting a career-high 75 points.
“He drives our offense. You see the goal-scoring ability. He’s been that guy all year for us,” Dobson said of Nelson. “You really don’t expect anything else in big games. He’s going to be there. Hopefully, he can continue on and score some big goals in the playoffs as well.”
Wednesday night was just the latest line to add to Nelson’s resume of heroics, which was solidified during the Islanders’ last trip to the playoffs in 2021.
In the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Bruins, he scored what was the game-winner in a 5-4 Game 5 victory to give the Islanders a 3-2 series lead. He followed it up by scoring a pair in quick succession during the second period at the Nassau Coliseum to put the Islanders out of sight in a series-clinching 6-2 win to move on to a second straight Stanley Cup semifinal.
In Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of those same playoffs, Nelson scored the tying and final goals of a series-clinching 5-3 victory.
A year prior, during the 2020 COVID year, he scored the Islanders’ third goal and added to assists in a 4-0 Game 7 Stanley Cup quarterfinal triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers to set up their first semifinal meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Dating back to the start of the 2018-19 season, Nelson has scored in five of the Islanders’ six playoff-series-clinching victories.
“I don’t know what it is but the guy just delivers constantly,” Islanders winger Zach Parise said. “He’s relied on a lot here and over and over he scores big goals. [Wednesday night] was no different. To get that first one was huge and then to get the one to give us a 3-1 lead, the guy’s a player.”
While Parise might not know what makes Nelson the go-to guy, head coach Lane Lambert does.
“He’s got poise under pressure and that’s just part of his personality,” he said. “He’s just used to speed all year long. He’s been very, very dynamic in his skating, and it’s helped generate his offense.”