The New York Islanders showed again Tuesday why they’re one of the best teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
A night after a tough loss to the New York Rangers, the Islanders played with a purpose against the Carolina Hurricanes, winning 4-1 at PNC Arena as goalkeeper Chad Johnson had 37 saves.
The Islanders were the quicker, fresher team, which usually is the difference in the second half of a back-to-back set. The Canes also played Monday, winning 6-3 in Ottawa.
“We definitely didn’t start on time,” Canes center Andrej Nestrasil said. “There’s no excuses, because they were flying in last night and traveling.”
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The Canes were beaten 6-3 by the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, allowing three goals in a poor first period. The Islanders beat them to pucks early Tuesday, outfought them for position and had better execution in building a 3-0 lead by the third period before Jiri Tlusty finally scored.
The Canes also got another puck past Johnson, who was given a rare start. But Nathan Gerbe’s apparent score, about three minutes after Tlusty’s goal, was waved off as Gerbe was ruled to have hit the puck with a high stick.
Anders Lee had a power-play goal in the first period for the Isles (38-19-1), the Metropolitan Division leaders. Brock Nelson scored in the second and Michael Grabner, activated Tuesday off injured reserve, made if 3-0 in the third before John Tavares scored a late empty-netter for his 28th goal.
After a seven-shot first period, the Canes (20-29-7) put 31 shots on net in the final two periods. But Johnson answered until Tlusty took a pass in front from Eric Staal to score his 13th of the season.
“That’s just the way it goes,” Nestrasil said. “One night you score six and everything goes in and another night you have (almost) 40 shots and it doesn’t. But the main thing is we didn’t start on time. That was the whole point. If we get the lead in the first period then we wouldn’t have to be pushing back for the last 40 minutes.”
Canes coach Bill Peters made a change in net after Cam Ward picked up the victory against the Sens. Anton Khudobin started and faced 14 shots in a first period.
“It was a back-to-back and it was a matter who was going to start better, and I think they did,” Tlusty said. “They came right at us.”
The Islanders couldn’t hold off the Rangers on Monday despite taking a two-goal lead in the third. In a game with a playoff feel, the Rangers won 6-5.
A holding call against Canes defenseman John-Michael Liles, back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch Monday, led to the Isles’ first score. New York needed just 25 seconds on the power play as Lee got position on defenseman Tim Gleason to score his 19th of the season.
Nelson then scored about seven minutes into the second as Gleason tangled with forward Colin McDonald, who was crowding Khudobin in the crease.
Grabner, who had missed five games with an upper-body injury, was a constant threat and finally broke through in the third. Khudobin slammed his stick against the post after Grabner skated in and scored, summing up the Canes’ frustration.
Johnson was making his third start since Jan. 10 as Jaroslav Halak has been the Islanders’ workhorse in net, starting 13 of the past 15 games. Johnson sported a 3.33 goals-against average and .873 save percentage coming in, but he was sharp enough Tuesday.
“He played extremely well,” Isles coach Jack Capuano said. “He’s one of those guys who hasn’t played a lot for us. ... He made some key saves in some key moments during the game.”
Eric Staal had a flurry of shots in the first period for the Canes and Jay McClement also had an attempt hit the post in the first. The Canes put 18 shots on net in the second.
Peters made forwards Victor Rask and Alexander Semin healthy scratches for the second straight game. Liles replaced Brett Bellemore in the lineup.
The Canes host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday at 7 p.m.
Peters had a simple answer for the Canes problems Tuesday.
“There were some guys who probably needed to play better and wanted to play better, but didn’t,” Peters said. “Every night you learn a little bit about your group, about your team. We gave one up on the power play and lost the specialty-teams battle.”