The New York Islanders continue their push for an Eastern Conference playoff spot on Saturday night when they visit the San Jose Sharks.
It’s the final game of a three-game western road swing for the Islanders (35-27-8, 78 points) who along with the Pittsburgh Penguins (34-24-10, 78 points) occupy the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. Both teams are three points ahead of the Florida Panthers (34-27-7, 75 points).
New York started the trip with a 5-2 loss at Los Angeles on Tuesday, yielding four goals over a 10-minute span in the second period, but bounced back with a 6-3 victory at Anaheim on Wednesday. Kyle Palmieri led the way with a goal and three assists for his first career four-point game while Brock Nelson added two goals to hit the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive season.
“I give our guys credit,” New York coach Lane Lambert said. “I thought (against the Kings) we played hard … and I thought tonight we played extremely hard as well. I’m really happy with the group and proud of the guys.”
Nelson became the first Islander since Anders Lee (2016-18) to have back-to-back 30-goal seasons.
“It was huge,” Nelson said of the win over the Ducks which snapped a two-game losing streak. “Games like that, it’s kind of nice where you can bounce right back, get right back at it. It’s a good job by everybody.”
A win over struggling San Jose (19-36-14, 52 points), which is last in the Western Conference and is just 1-6-3 over its last 10 games, would seem like a must for New York’s playoff hopes. The Sharks are a dismal 6-19-10 at home this season, the only team in the NHL without double-digit home victories.
“Keep playing like we did, especially the second half of last game,” defenseman Sebastian Aho said when asked about the key to finishing the road trip on a positive note. “I feel like the structure was good and we didn’t give up a lot. We know if we keep that structure, we’re going to get chances, and we’ve just got to keep putting pucks in net and keep shooting it.”
San Jose comes in off a 2-1 overtime loss to visiting Seattle on Thursday. Vince Dunn scored the winner on a wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle at 1:58 of OT to hand the Sharks their fifth straight loss (0-3-2).
William Eklund scored San Jose’s lone goal on a penalty shot early in the third period, the second straight game that Eklund has scored. The 20-year-old Eklund became the second rookie in Sharks history to score a penalty-shot goal, joining Tomas Plihal who did it on March 9 in 2008.
“Ever since I saw him for the first time, I thought this kid is special,” San Jose goaltender James Reimer, who had 30 saves, said of Eklund. “Just the way he plays, sees the ice, the way he can move. He’s just a little water bug out there.”
Eklund, who exhorted the crowd to stand up and cheer after his score, said it was tough to enjoy his goal afterward because of the way the game ended.
“I think everybody in here hates losing,” Eklund said. “I think we played a good game today. (Reimer) was standing on his head giving us a chance to win. We’ve got to get better next game.”