Who says they’re washed?
The New York Islanders’ fourth line came up huge yet again, scoring two quick goals in the second half of the third period to take their second-straight game, 2-0, over the New York Rangers.
After scoring the game-tying goal in the third period of Saturday’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Casey Cizikas scored what proved to be the game-winner with 8:49 remaining in regulation. Just over two minutes later, Matt Martin doubled the lead for some necessary breathing space while moving momentarily into the No. 4 and final playoff spot in the East Division.
“We’re keeping our game simple and playing to our strengths and that’s creating chances and turning into success for our line,” Cizikas said. “The way we’re playing and the way we’re jelling, it’s something we can build off of.”
It’s been a barnstorming two games for the line after they struggled to get going to start things off this season.
“We’ve been having a little bit of tough luck with pucks going in on us,” Cal Clutterbuck, who provided Martin’s assist, said. “Obviously it doesn’t sit well with us, not at all. So it’s nice to have a couple go our way, especially in a big game.”
The late fourth-line barrage allowed Semyon Varlamov to nab another win as he remains red-hot to outduel Igor Shesterkin.
It’s the second time this year already that Varlamov has shut out the Rangers — the first Islander to ever do that — making 30 saves while Shesterkin stopped 28.
“I don’t want to sit here and talk about these last two games against the Rangers,” Varlamov said. “It’s a long season and a lot of games are coming. In our last four games, we’ve been collecting points and that’s all that matters at this point.”
The Islanders’ play in the first two periods was much of the same — playing tentative, hesitant hockey while absorbing relentless Rangers pressure before finding their attacking legs in the latter stages of the period.
They still had a 21-19 advantage in shots heading toward the third period despite the Rangers having a pair of power plays compared to the Islanders’ zero.
Jordan Eberle, who had two goals in the Islanders’ win on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, came closest to breaking the deadlock one minute into the second when he lifted a wrister while driving under the left circle off the post.
Varlamov had to be especially sharp two minutes into the third when a bungled three-on-two from Anders Lee and Josh Bailey sprung Artemi Panarin alone on the Islanders’ goal. His attempt to go five-hole, though, was gobbled up by Varlamov to keep things scoreless.
A minute later, the Islanders’ goaltender stacked the pads on Mika Zibanejad, who led a two-on-one rush.
“He was really good. He was really locked in,” Islanders head coach Trotz said. “He gave us a bit of momentum. Our bench perked up at that point and they went out there and started changing the momentum a bit.”
“When you face these shots against the biggest players in the league and you make the save, of course, it gives you a boost during the game,” Varlamov said. “You want to make that save. I thought that was a key save in this game, we needed those… and we scored a little bit later.”
While the Islanders spent the first half of the third yet again on their heels, they broke the ice out of seemingly nothing — and they headed to the dirty areas to do so.
A rolling puck headed to the point in the Rangers’ zone was cut off by Adam Pelech, who one-timed a slapper that was blocked down in front of goal. The ensuing scramble saw the puck fall to Cizikas’ path to pound it home with 8:49 to go.
Just 2:09 later, the fourth line was at it again when Clutterbuck sent a pinpoint cross-ice path in front of Shesterkin’s goal to an open Martin, who one-timed the chance into an open net.
“Awesome pass, right on the money,” Martin said of Clutterbuck’s helper. “Just had to put it home.”
The win was Islanders head coach Barry Trotz’s 850th career win, moving him into third-place all-time in NHL history.
“It’ll probably hit me when I’m done doing this but I’m really focused on this group,” Trotz said. “I’ve had a lot of great players and good teams… and general managers who have stood behind me.”