The Islanders earned an important 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils Friday night at Barclays Center. The win kept their slim playoff hopes alive, but the injury bug struck again, felling captain John Tavares who left the game in the final minute with a lower-body injury.
Tavares was skating behind the New Jersey goal when he appeared to catch his skate in netting. The captain fell to the ice, clutching his hamstring. He required the assistance of two teammates to skate off to the dressing room and will be evaluated further on Saturday by team doctors.
The Islanders have experienced a parade of injuries recently with Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic, Nikolay Kulemin and Ryan Strome already sidelined by various ailments. The result was three straight losses that left the team’s playoff hopes in desperate straights.
While Tavares’ official status is unknown, interim head coach Doug Weight seemed to realize the team may have to play without their captain for the next few games.
“It’s not a great scenario, obviously,” Weight admitted. “John’s a huge engine and plays every single situation you could ask for. You’ve got to figure out who we’re going to get up here. We need guys to come in, step up and contribute.”
The players also realized it would be difficult to reach the postseason without Tavares. “It’s not good, obviously, when you see John [Tavares] go down because he’s our captain and he’s a very important part of this franchise,” veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk said.
One player who will have to pick up the slack is Anders Lee. The winger gave the Isles a 1-0 lead in this game when he scored his club-leading 29th goal of the season early in the first period. Lee stationed himself in front of the New Jersey crease and was able to put home the rebound of a shot by Boychuk. The 26-year-old led the Isles with five shots on goal in the game and fought New Jersey’s Ben Lovejoy in the final minute of play for good measure.
The Islanders also got solid offensive contributions from the newly-created line of Anthony Beauvillier, Joshua Ho-Sang and Jason Chimera. All three players share a common trait: speed. Beauvillier scored the game-winning goal late in the second period off a perfect cross-ice pass by Ho-Sang. Chimera also assisted on the goal to collect his 400th career NHL point.
“Chimera can fly and Ho-Sang can make plays,” Beauvillier said. “The three of us all have speed and we used it tonight and it really paid off. It’s a good mix and it was clicking for us our first game together.”
The Islanders also played more effective defense throughout the game, keeping the Devils inept offense from getting quality scoring chances. Jaroslav Halak made 26 saves and was rarely challenged en route to his eighth win of the season.
The performance wasn’t pretty, but at this stage of the season, the Islanders will take the two points any way they can get them. The Isles are now just four points behind the Bruins. Both teams have five games left to play, but the Islanders must also pass the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes in the standings in order to claim the final postseason berth.
“It’s a good win,” Boychuk said. “But we have to put it behind us and get ready for the next one.”
The next one will come Sunday afternoon when the Islanders travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres, a team already out of the playoff race. Still, their difficult task will be even more challenging if they have to carry on without their captain and best player.