The Islanders know they need to be in playoff mode.
After slipping below the postseason cutoff line two days ago, the Islanders turned it around and won their second in a row Sunday to claw their way back into playoff position with a 4-1 victory over the Sharks at the Coliseum.
The Metropolitan Division couldn’t be any tighter and the Islanders have little room to breathe after their abysmal recent road trip when they went 0-4 and found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture for the first time since mid-October.
But with visits from the league-worst Red Wings on Friday followed by the streaky Sharks, the Islanders have played like their postseason hopes depended on it.
Anders Lee recorded his first two-goal performance since January of last year and added an assist for a three-point night, his first since November and Devon Toews notched his seventh goal of the season in the victory. Making his fifth consecutive start in net, Semyon Varlamov stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced to improve to 19-12-4 on the season.
The Sharks, losers of their last four in a row, are in the midst of a four-game East Coast trip, where they’d previously picked up losses to the Rangers and Devils.
Lee opened the scoring after a two-on-one rush with Mat Barzal, who displayed his patience with the puck before feeding the Islanders captain at 6:49 of the first for the 1-0 score. But the Sharks bit back to knot the game at one at 10:36 of the first when Dylan Gambrell deflected a Radim Simek shot past Varlamov, who seemingly had no idea the puck even went in.
The Islanders were held to six shots on goal in the middle period, but managed to come away with a two-goal lead. Just over a minute into the second, Lee sniped Sharks goaltender Martin Jones over the right shoulder from the left circle to make it 2-1. It was Lee’s sixth point in the last eight games.
Ryan Pulock nearly handed Lee his third goal midway through the second, when he slid the puck through San Jose’s crease before the Isles captain could get a stick on it. Kieffer Bellows, who has been in and out of the Islanders’ lineup since his call-up at the beginning of the month, rung the post with roughly four minutes remaining in the second.
At 17:38 of the second, Devon Toews put the Islanders up 3-1 with a top-shelf shot from the slot.
The Islanders remained cool and collected in the third, managing to play it safe in the final 20 minutes to secure the win. Sharks winger Timo Meier was well defended on a partial breakaway, the Sharks’ final dangerous opportunity, at 14:13 before Varlamov knocked the puck away to maintain the two-goal lead.
Josh Bailey capped the scoring at 17:41 of the third with an empty-netter after Lee, with a chance to notch the first hat trick of his career, instead passed the puck to his wide-open teammate.