ELMONT — The Islanders are starting to make a habit of finding ways to overcome inconsistent efforts to pull out wins in the third period.
Simon Holmstrom sniped the game-winning goal over the right shoulder of star netminder Connor Hellebuyck with 10:03 in regulation to lift the Islanders to a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night at UBS Arena.
“It feels great,” Holmstrom said, who shook off a hit just. moments earlier to cut toward goal from the right corner, get on the end of a deflected puck off Matt Martin’s stick, and roof his chance. “Especially such an important goal as well to get the lead there.”
It’s the third win in four games for New York (30-24-7) in which they entered the third period either tied or trailing — defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins twice in four days to help erase a three-game losing streak.
“We’ve come up big here three out of the last four games in the third period,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “Not only did we come up with the goal, but I thought we did a really good job defending in the third period, much better than we did in the second period. I think that was the difference in the game.”
Ilya Sorokin certainly had a say in that as he outdueled Hellebuyck, who was coming off a 50-save effort on Monday night in a win at Madison Square Garden over the Rangers, to earn a hard-fought victory by turning away 24 shots to help out an Islanders defense that was shuffled by Lambert.
“They did a really good job,” Sorokin said. “A lot of shots were blocked and it was not just the defense but the forwards too. Zach Parise at 38 years old and he’s blocking pucks [with two seconds left in the game], too, that’s really good.”
The top pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock were finally split up — the former going with Scott Mayfield and the latter working with Alex Romanov.
“I thought for the most part [they were good],” Lambert said. “Winnipeg’s got a heavy team, they’ve got some big forwards and I thought that the shuffle that we did was well warranted and I thought they played well.”
Sorokin found himself with a heavy workload from the jump. If not for him, the Islanders would have been trailing by at least two goals in the first period. Kyle Connor hit a post early before the netminder got the slightest of touches on a Blake Wheeler one-timer from point-blank range at the left post.
With five-and-a-half to go in the period, Sorokin did well to stop another Connor attempt, but he was able to get some help from blueliner Scott Mayfield, who blocked the follow-up attempt on the rebound from Dylan DeMelo.
The Islanders gave Sorokin a lead to work with when a wrister from Brock Nelson on a 2-on-1 was saved by Hellebuyck but came right to Sebastian Aho for an easy tap-in with 2:25 to go.
A Casey Cizikas trip opened the door for the Jets to find an equalizer on the power play when Nikolaj Ehlers sniped a wrister over the blocker side of Sorokin 4:30 into the second period. It was the lone blemish of a period in which the Islanders were outshot 11-4 and on the night for the New York netminder.
In the third period, however, the Islanders held the Jets to just five shots despite leading for the second half of the frame.
“It starts with our goaltender, Lambert said. “You know that’s a big part of it. But the guys are sticking to the structure and I thought we did a very good job making sure we stayed above a team that is very dynamic and dangerous in terms of their offensive abilities.”