UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Islanders didn’t let the NHL-leading Nashville Predators push them around in their last visit to Long Island.
The last one in the regular season, at least.
No, the Predators won’t be back at Nassau Coliseum again unless these surprising upstart clubs march their way to a Stanley Cup finals matchup. As far-fetched as that might have seemed in October, it is hardly out of the question now.
Nick Leddy had a goal and two assists, Jaroslav Halak tied the team record for wins in a season, and the Islanders cooled off the Predators with a 5-2 win on Thursday night.
Brian Strait, John Tavares and Johnny Boychuk scored in the first period for the Islanders, who snapped Nashville’s six-game winning streak with their sixth victory in seven games. Tavares has at least one goal in four straight games.
No thoughts yet of the finals, though.
“We know we have a good hockey team, and we believe we can beat any team in this league, and we expect to,” Tavares said. “We have so many games, and we are so in the moment of still trying to get to the playoffs. It’s important we focus on the here and now.
“If we eventually get to that point, it would be a heck of an opportunity.”
The Islanders (39-19-1) lead the Metropolitan Division and are one point behind Eastern Conference-leading Montreal.
Leddy and Josh Bailey scored 1:39 apart in the third period to break open a one-goal nail biter. Halak made 30 saves for his 32nd win.
“We beat a good team,” Halak said. “They are the No. 1 team in the whole NHL the whole season. Beating them is always nice, and getting two points is more important right now.”
Filip Forsberg and James Neal scored for the Predators (39-13-6). Pekka Rinne had a rare off night, allowing five goals on 40 shots. He is 15-2-1 in his last 18 games.
The Islanders continued their trend of jumping out to multigoal leads and then struggling to maintain them, but their big third period closed out the victory. In their previous home game on Monday, the Islanders blew a pair of two-goal leads in a 6-5 loss to the New York Rangers.
Wins at Carolina and against Nashville have stabilized the Islanders again.
“That’s what good teams do,” Leddy said. “You can’t worry about the past. It’s a long season.”
Nashville began chipping away at its 3-0 deficit on the rookie Forsberg’s 20th goal of the season with 17.2 seconds left in the first period.
The Predators withstood pressure from the Islanders in the second. They were helped by two drives that struck goal posts. Neal got them within 3-2 with his team-leading 21st goal at 16:38.
“We’ve come back so many times this year, and you can’t do it every single game,” forward Eric Nystrom said. “We battled back and made it 3-2, had an opportunity to make it fall our way but they responded.”
The Islanders didn’t start as fast as Tavares’ goal 11 seconds in against the Rangers, but Strait made it 1-0 at 1:00, scoring off a feed from Frans Nielsen after Michael Grabner stole the puck in the offensive zone. It was Strait’s second goal of the season and first since Jan. 10.
Rinne turned aside Colin McDonald on the doorstep with 2:40 gone and then caught a break when Tavares hit the goal post, but a blistering drive by Boychuk at 10:10 doubled the lead. Leddy drove the net and was stopped. The puck carried out toward the right point, and Boychuk drilled in his sixth goal and second in three games.
Halak made a pair of big saves right after a Predators power play expired, and then he was staked to a 3-0 lead when Tavares got a rebound of Leddy’s shot during New York’s man advantage and sent a shot past Rinne with 1:39 left in the first. It was Tavares’ 29th goal.
Rinne, the NHL’s third star last week, hadn’t allowed more than two goals in his previous five starts.
“He is one of the reasons why they are on the top of the league,” Halak said. “Tonight he was good, too. We scored five goals but there were a few unlucky on him.”
The Islanders lost center Mikhail Grabovski for the game with 11:21 left in the first when he was leveled by a shoulder from Nystrom — the son of Islanders great Bobby Nystrom, whose No. 23 hangs from the Nassau Coliseum rafters.
“I didn’t even get a penalty. It’s clean as a whistle,” Nystrom said. “The guy skated right into me. I didn’t lift my arms. I didn’t jump. There’s nothing wrong with a good, hard hit. Unfortunately somebody got hurt.
“I hope he’s OK.”
A stretcher was brought onto the ice, but Grabovski skated off after being down for several minutes. He sustained an unspecified upper-body injury, and there was no update after the game.
NOTES: Tavares has five goals and nine points in four games. … The Islanders scored first for the fifth straight game. It was the fourth time they did it in the first 1:11. … Predators C Mike Santorelli and D Cody Franson were again scratched due to immigration delays after they were acquired from Toronto on Sunday. They arrived during the game.
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