The New York Islanders managed to steal a win Thursday night against an opponent trying to scramble into the playoff race in the East Division. Their reward? Another game Friday against another team playing with a heightened sense of urgency.
The Islanders will look to remain atop the East and make an archrival's playoff path even more complicated Friday night when they host the New York Rangers in the opener of a two-game series in Uniondale, N.Y.
Both teams will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set.
The host Islanders didn't score for the final 57 minutes Thursday before Brock Nelson collected the only goal of a five-round shootout in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers fell further behind in the race for the East's final playoff spot by falling to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-2.
The Islanders, who broke a first-place tie with the Washington Capitals by earning their fourth straight win, got off to a fast start Thursday when Nelson and Jordan Eberle scored 63 seconds apart early in the first period. They had an immediate chance to add to the lead when the Flyers' Samuel Morin was assessed a game misconduct for boarding Casey Cizikas 14 seconds after Eberle's goal.
However, the Islanders got just three shots in the ensuing five-minute power play against the Flyers, who are four points back of the fourth-place Boston Bruins in the East. But Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin stopped the final 17 shots he faced following Jakub Voracek's game-tying goal at the 3:22 mark of the second before he turned back all five Philadelphia attempts in the shootout.
"We definitely gave the momentum away there -- we were pretty flat the rest of the game," Eberle said. "Got to give (the Flyers) credit, they're a desperate team, they played well. They had a ton of chances. The story, obviously, is 'Soroky' stopping a lot of pucks. But we found a way to get it to overtime and get the two points. Sometimes you need to get away with one."
The Rangers are nearing must-win mode in their attempt to make a late charge into the playoff race. They entered Thursday having collected points in seven of their past nine games, but they never led against the Penguins. Pittsburgh scored three unanswered goals during a 27-minute span bridging the second and third periods.
Goals from Colin Blackwell and Kevin Rooney plus 27 saves from Igor Shesterkin weren't enough for the sixth-place Rangers, who are now seven points behind the Bruins.
Nine of the Rangers' final 17 games are against teams currently occupying a playoff spot, but they won't face the Bruins until the teams are scheduled to complete the regular season with a back-to-back set in Boston on May 6 and May 8.
"Every point's huge right now, and losing games never helps," Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said. "Definitely (a) missed opportunity, but quick turnaround for us (Friday), so a good opportunity to try and get it back."
--Field Level Media