Islanders solidify playoff position with impressive win over Predators

Some hesitation in making any kind of declarative statement about the Islanders is forgivable at this point, given how they have run hot and cold.

But maybe an optimist might think that it is sort of, kind of, just a little bit possible that the Islanders are … getting hot.

And more than that, perhaps they are doing so at the exact right time.

Semyon Varlamov makes one of his 40 saves in the Islanders’ 2-0 win over the Predators. Getty Images

The wins have been a little bit ugly, and the teams around them in the standings have provided ample help.

But a winning streak that reached four after a 2-0 victory on home ice against the Predators on Saturday broke the franchise’s 10-game duck against Nashville to spoil Barry Trotz’s homecoming speaks volumes, even if the overall vibe of this season makes it hard to hear.

“We’ve kind of gotten kicked in the nuts a few times this year,” Kyle Palmieri said. “So I think for us, we’re gonna fight and claw our way.”

That is just what the Islanders have been doing as they suddenly find themselves two points clear for third place in the division, ahead in the five-team pack of mediocrity that has seen just about everyone fumble a good standings situation at least once by now.

That would be the reason to avoid jinxing anything: With five games left in the regular season, there is still ample time to drop the ball.

At this moment in time, however, the Islanders control their own playoff destiny.

And more than that, they might even manage to avoid playing potential Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins or Rangers sides in the first round.

Noah Dobson celebrates with teammates after scoring a second-period goal in the Islanders’ win. Michelle Farsi / New York Post

“As much as people think the locker room can get stale, we have some fresh blood in here,” Palmieri said. “I think for people, we care a lot about each other and what we do away from the ice for each other. I think that’s qualities of a good team. We enjoy coming to the rink and competing with each other every day.”

Like the three wins that preceded it, Saturday was a choppy affair.

The Islanders spent a little too much time in their defensive zone.

They did not pass the puck crisply. There were more than a few big-time bailouts from Semyon Varlamov.

“Our goalie gave us a chance to win this game tonight,” head coach Patrick Roy said after Varlamov’s 41-save shutout. “He won the game for us tonight.”

But if you squinted, you could see some progress in the Isles’ game.

There was more support on breakouts.

They played fast, keeping up with a Nashville team that is amongst the best in the league. They worked and battled hard enough to make up for a general lack of precision in their game.

It took until Noah Dobson’s wrist shot at 9:07 of the second period to break a scoreless deadlock, with the defenseman’s 10th goal of the season traversing through Casey Cizikas’ screen for a 1-0 lead.

To hold it, the Islanders had to navigate their way through a pair of consecutive penalty kills starting with Brock Nelson getting called for tripping at the 6:05 mark.

Ryan Pulock battles Nashville’s Kiefer Sherwood for the puck during the Islanders’ victory. Michelle Farsi / New York Post

They killed that off, but almost before the game returned to even strength, Simon Holmstrom was called for slashing.

That was when the grind which had constituted the better part of the Islanders’ night combined with Varlamov to produce two minutes of heart-stopping excellence.

Twice, Jean-Gabriel Pageau lost his stick, forcing the Islanders to survive at what was effectively 3 ¹/₂-on-5.

Three different times, Varlamov turned aside grade-A chances, getting his stick on a backdoor feed to Gustav Nyquist, his blocker on a Ryan O’Reilly wrister and catching a laser from Filip Forsberg with his glove.

Even after the penalty expired with eight minutes to go, this game became an onslaught.

Semyon Varlamov celebrates after the Islanders’ win. Getty Images

Nashville came down the ice. The Islanders repelled them. Rinse. Repeat.

“Couple times I thought I got lucky,” Varlamov said. “They missed, I feel like, a [bunch of] chances, opportunities. Luck was definitely on my side today, which is good. I’ll take that any day.”

Earlier in the year, the Islanders folded in similar moments nearly every time one presented itself.

Now, with their season on the line, they stood equal to this one, with Palmieri sealing the deal with 1:19 to go thanks to an empty-net goal that blew the roof off UBS Arena.

For the remainder, chants of “We want playoffs” exploded from the rafters.

And whether or not you dare to believe this turnaround is for real, the Islanders’ lead in the standings very much is.

Right now, that is all that matters.

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