Mathew Barzal admitted that he let nearly two weeks of emotion out in one demonstrative goal celebration.
After a 12-day layoff — and what was just their fourth game in 29 days — the star Islanders forward sniped the game-winning goal off a one-timer between the dots from Josh Bailey with 4:53 left in regulation to lift the Islanders to a 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils at UBS Arena.
“Off for 12 days, just finding some excitement in the game,” Barzal said. “The first 53 minutes of the game for me wasn’t my best. A couple chances but nothing crazy. Just a great pass by [Bailey] and I just let 12 days of emotion out.”
It extended Barzal’s point streak to a career-best nine games in which he’s recorded 14 points (3 G, 11 A) during that stretch.
Ever-so-slowly, the Islanders are beginning to dig their way out of their last-place hole. Thursday’s victory was their fourth in five games while they’ve collected at least one point in 10 of their last 12 games.
“Everyone knows where we’re at in the standings and we have to start winning hockey games,” Barzal said. “After 12 days, a little bit of rust at first… it was a good team win.”
Granted, it came in dramatic fashion against a fellow bottom-dweller in the Devils, who tied the game at two goals apiece when Nathan Bastian’s power-play deflection trickled home with 9:35 to go in regulation after the Islanders’ lone All-Star selection, defenseman Adam Pelech, and Brock Nelson took back-to-back penalties midway through the final frame.
“We learned a few things tonight in terms of times when we struggle a little bit, how we need to play,” associate head coach Lane Lambert, who filled in for Barry Trotz while he’s out due to COVID, said. “After the long layoff, we can gain some rhythm.”
Yegor Sharangovich put the Devils on the board first midway through the first period when his wrist shot from the right circle snuck through the pads of Ilya Sorokin — one the Islanders’ goalie would have wanted back.
New Jersey’s opener was canceled out by a diving power-play goal by Josh Bailey with 1:01 to go in the frame, who cleaned up a rebound off a scramble in front of Jon Gillies’ goal that came from a Zach Parise shot. It was Bailey’s first goal since Oct. 24 and just his second of the season while improving the Islanders’ recent red-hot power play to 35.7% (10-of-28) over its last 11 games.
“We worked on a lot the last couple weeks,” Bailey said. “Really just wanted to come out and find a way to win and we were able to do that. A really good way to come off the break.”
Pelech put the Islanders ahead 9:22 into the second period for his first goal of the season when his wrister was deflected drastically by Devils defenseman Ryan Graves — who was in the shooting lane thanks to Parise’s probing — to the point where it bounced off the ice and over the shoulder of Gillies.
For Parise, it was his second multi-point game as an Islanders, which just so happened to come against a Devils team he spent seven seasons with.
Pelech’s exploits for the rest of the night landed him in the penalty box rather than on a scoresheet; a crosscheck at the 13:19 mark of the second period was followed by a trip at the 7:47 mark of the third.
While the Islanders killed both of his penalties off, they couldn’t do so with Brock Nelson’s crosscheck just seconds after Pelech’s infraction was killed.
With 9:35 left in the game and 17 seconds after Nelson went to the box, the Devils drew level when Nathan Bastian’s deflection squeaked through Sorokin.
The Islanders’ netminder would stand tall to the finish, however, amidst a strong Devils push following Barzal’s equalizer. Sorokin stopped 30 of 32 shots in the victory.
He clearly made some really big saves at key moments,” Lambert said. “No question, there were two or three of them that were really key.”