Anders Lee was 1.3 seconds away from Thursday night becoming his 30th career game with two goals — the most of any active NHL player without a hat trick. But with the game well in hand, a lucky bounce his way led to a memorable clean-up as the Islanders captain slotted home his third goal in a 6-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at UBS Arena.
“One of those nights where the puck kind of found me,” Lee said. “
The Islanders’ captain and 10-year veteran has been red-hot as of late, following up a two-goal game against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night in style. In his last six periods of play, he has six points (5 goals, 1 assist).
“You always feel good when you score a goal but it’s kind of a mixture of finding your spots, your looks,” Lee continued. “Sometimes the puck just finds you. You put yourself in a position to get a good bounce and just a couple nights in a row of getting those bounces and putting yourself in the right position.”
To make it even more special, the performance came 364 days after he tore his ACL in a season-ending injury against the New Jersey Devils as he continues to work his way back to form.
“I think it took me a little longer to get back to what I hoped for,” Lee, who now sits at 19 goals on the season, admitted. “It’s just one of these things where you have to keep going and keep working through. It’s in a good spot now. There’s lingering things that come with it. The strength is there, the confidence is there, but it’s one of those things where it’s not going to feel like it’s completely gone for a little bit and I’m OK with that.
“I liked how I handled it. I wish I could’ve performed better, but I liked my mentality through the whole process.”
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Ilya Sorokin stopped all 25 Blue Jackets (28-27-3) shots for his sixth shutout this season and his fifth win in his last eight outings where he got plenty of support and Islanders offense that also featured a three-assist night from Ryan Pulock. It was the fifth time in the defenseman’s career that he recorded at least three assists in a single game.
The Islanders (22-24-8) struck first on a two-man advantage after Brock Nelson dipped into his bag of tricks — entering the zone with his back turned to goal and gliding through the defense before turning and snapping a wrister under the arm of Joonas Korpisalo 10:32 into the first.
Sorokin played a major role in setting the stage for New York’s opener when he stoned Boone Jenner on a shorthanded breakaway just seconds before Vladislav Gavrikov high-sticked Nelson, providing the Islanders with the 5-on-3 scenario.
Josh Bailey doubled the Islanders’ lead 6:08 into the second period when he snuck behind the Blue Jackets defense and snuck a chance through the five-hole of Korpisalo. It was the veteran winger’s first goal since Jan. 18, breaking an 18-game drought.
“It felt good,” Bailey said. “When you go through a stretch like this in the course of your career, you just have to stick with it. You have to run right through it. You can’t get around it.”
With 6:11 to go in the period, Lee made it three while remaining on the ascension. A strong forecheck by Anthony Beauvillier at the Blue Jackets’ blue line led to a turnover that Adam Pelech managed to find Lee with, who wristed his third goal and fourth point in his last five periods dating back to Monday’s loss against the Colorado Avalanche.
Sorokin ensured it remained a three-goal advantage two minutes later when he made a sliding, sprawling save on Gustav Nyquist, who tried to go five-hole on a breakaway.
It quickly became four when the Islanders cashed in while shorthanded. Ryan Pulock forced a turnover at center-ice to spark a 2-on-1 rush Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The defenseman hit the center with a pinpoint pass for the one-timed goal just 3:55 after Lee’s tally.
Lee picked up his second goal of the night with 8:03 to go in the game, roofing a loose puck that fell to him off a scramble in front of the Blue Jackets’ goal before one final scramble to final get him his hat trick.
“Right now I’m grateful,” Lee said.