ELMONT, N.Y. — The Islanders can, in fact, pull out comeback victories of their own in the third period, too.
For a team that had been hampered and derailed by third-period calamaties all season, it appears as though Lane Lambert’s men are finally putting things together in order to create full 60-minute efforts.
A team that squandered 10 third-period leads already this season, including five losses in which they led after two periods, the Islanders hit their lowest point on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks in which they blew a 4-1 third-period lead to lose 5-4 in overtime.
The late collapses overshadowed what had been enough promising tendencies to suggest New York could be a contender. Their power play was clicking at a 35% rate over a three-week stretch, the penalty kill was evening out, and they had a plus-14 goal differential in the first and second periods.
“You have to be very, very careful of th enegatives getting int he way of the positives here,” Lambert said. “I get it’s skewed because of the overtime or shootout losses but you have to be very, very careful with the negtativity outweighting the positives and there’s a lot of positives and there’s a lot of positives.”
Even more positives emerged over their last two games when, for the first time this season, the Islanders showed life in the third period. They scored three times in the final 20 minutes on Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets to secure a 7-3 victory.
“This just gave us some belief that we can go out there and do it,” center Bo Horvat said after that win.
On Saturday night, they overturned a 2-0 deficit behind two Anders Lee goals to stun the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in overtime and hand them their first road loss of the season.
“We’ve responded the last two nights now and that’s all I can say is that we’re continuing to grow as a team and building on what we’ve been working on,” Lee said on Saturday night. “We’re going to have mistakes and mess things up a little bit, but you see what we did tonight. That’s a result of all the work that we’ve put in in the process of sticking with it and having the right mentality.”
With it, the Islanders have now won four of their last five games while collecting at least one point in 11 of their last 12. It’s allowed them to catapult from near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings following a seven-game losing streak from Nov. 4-16 to third place and in a playoff spot.
“We talked about playing on our toes and playing aggressive,” Lambert said. “It’s a work in progress so we’re pretty happy with the third period tonight and we’ll go from there… In order for us to have the kind of success we want to have — and we’re having success — we have to play a full 60 minutes. So this is certainly a step in the right direction.”
A team that admittedly held their sticks tighther in crunch time now all of a sudden is beginning to believe again, which only bodes well for a group that saw the third period as a final hurdle to clear toward playing consistent hockey.
“Just the belief in the locker room, some of the things you don’t see during intermission, just knowing that the game is right there for us,” star forward Mathew Barzal said. “This is a team that’s got good character. They’ve got a little bit of everything.”