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Islanders welcoming break after grueling stretch

New York Islanders' Anders Lee (27) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The All-Star break couldn’t come at a much better time for the New York Islanders — who actually finished the unofficial first half of their 2019-20 season with an important 4-2 rivalry win over the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Another strong outing from Thomas Greiss backstopped goals from Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Devon Toews, and Brock Nelson in a rare offensive explosion. Sure, “explosion” is an operative word, but it holds water when describing this Islanders team.

It was just the fourth time in the past 11 games that the Islanders’ attack eclipsed the three-goal mark. During that span, they’ve lost seven of those games including a three-game losing streak that was snapped with Tuesday night’s victory.

Yet the Islanders found a way to make the final moments of what should have been a comfortable win difficult.

Leading 4-0 with six minutes left in the game, defenseman Scott Mayfield speared Rangers agitator Brendan Lemieux with play dead, prompting a four-minute double-minor penalty. The Rangers scored on each end of the double minor to halve their deficit.

“They were getting a little frustrated, you could just tell there was no life there and it looked like they were going to accept the loss,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “Then we take a penalty and all hell breaks loose after that. It’s on us, individually.

Things got even nervier when the Islanders took a delay-of-game penalty with 3:26 left as head coach Barry Trotz took far too long to get his correct personnel on the ice.

“I’m just a little emotional right now because we could’ve made it easy,” Trotz added after the game. “And we’re not doing that right now.

Luckily for Mayfield (and Trotz), they held on for two points heading into a well-deserved 11-day break after playing their last seven games in a grueling 11-day stretch

“I’m ecstatic with the two points. We’re exhausted. We had to battle through it, but it was huge for our psyche in the break,” Trotz said. “We’ve had so many games during a short period of time. We’re mentally and physically fatigued, so the break is going to do us good.”

“If we had lost that game in any way, shape, or form, it would have been a pretty big punch to the stomach. But we didn’t and we’re going to have a good break now and well-deserved rest.”

Joe Pantorno