Islanders’ 3rd-period boons predicated on ‘belief’, ‘freeing yourself’

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Anders Lee Brock Nelson Islanders
New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee (27) celebrates his overtime goal with center Brock Nelson as they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Philip G. Pavely)

PITTSBURGH — The Islanders are starting to make a habit out of these dramatic finishes. 

For a third time against the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, they pulled off an improbable third-period comeback on Thursday night — this time at PPG Paints Arena — overturning a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime. In total, they’ve come back to win eight games in which they entered the third period trailing. 

“It’s belief in ourselves, that’s the biggest thing,” Casey Cizikas, who supplied the assist for Hudson Fasching’s goal that pulled the Islanders to within one with 5:29 remaining in regulation, said. “The game is not won after 40 minutes but the full 60 minutes and we believe that when we play our game, we know we can play with the best of anyone.”

New York’s late-game heroics have been crucial in keeping their slim lead for the No. 1 Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference over the Penguins, who now sit three points back with three fewer games played.

The Islanders scored three unanswered goals in the third period in Pittsburgh on Feb. 20 to overturn a 2-1 deficit after two periods to win 4-2. Just three days earlier at UBS Arena, they scored twice in the third period to erase a 4-3 deficit to win 5-4.

“We got very comfortable. We’ve talked about it a lot,” Anders Lee said of his team’s mindset in such situations. “Our guys can make plays, we can score goals. So, down 3-1 [on Thursday], it’s definitely a big task. It’s not going to happen every night but we believe in ourselves.”

Islanders Penguins Brock Nelson Anders Lee
The New York Islanders celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Philip G. Pavely)

The concept of urgency and even desperation has also been prevalent throughout this recent stretch, which players and head coach Lane Lambert have credited throughout this most recent stretch in which they’ve gone 11-3-3 over their last 17 games to get back into the playoff race.

It appears as though it’s as easy as flipping on a light switch — the Islanders looking like a completely different team in the third period. 

But what makes it click?

“It’s probably a combination of freeing yourself up a bit and trying to play fast and crisp,” Brock Nelson, who scored the game-winner in overtime on Thursday, said. “It sounds easy but it’s a tight game and not always going to be clean. But you have to stick with it and once you find that groove, that flow, you try to get into a rhythm and go with it and it feels like it clicks a bit better for us.”

In no way is it the most sustainable brand of hockey, but the confidence that comes with knowing that they’re truly not out of most games is something the Islanders can stash for the stretch run.

“Just keep going,” Cizikas said. “The game’s not over until that final buzzer goes. We just keep pushing no matter what happens. We’re going to leave it all out there.”

For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com