The Islanders staked Ilya Sorokin to a five-goal, first-period lead and matched their season-high for goals. But they still needed their goalie’s brilliance to steer clear of a second straight brutal defeat.
Instead, the Islanders ultimately held off the Canucks’ surge through the second period and most of the third to open a four-game road trip with a 6-3 win on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
“It was massive,” Mathew Barzal said of the Islanders’ quick start. “Anytime you get three [goals] in the first four minutes, especially after a tough loss to Seattle. Coming back from the break, we knew we had to start hot and get going.”
Sorokin made 34 saves, stopping the last 17 shots he faced, as the Islanders (17-17-6) moved within 15 points of the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot. He made 16 saves in the third period.
“He made some massive saves,” said Casey Cizikas, who had a goal and an assist. “He’s been doing that all season for us. He proved again why he’s one of the top goalies in the league and he played like it.”
The Islanders went into the All-Star break with a no-show 3-0 loss to the expansion Seattle Kraken at UBS Arena on Feb. 2, a loss that an angry Barry Trotz called perhaps his most disappointing as the team’s coach.
The Islanders’ fast start — their three goals in 31 seconds in the first period was the second-fastest trio of goals in team history — proved Trotz wasn’t the only one annoyed.
“We were embarrassed with our performance in that game,” Cizikas said. “We wanted to come out and prove to ourselves that we’re a good hockey team and we’re a lot better than that. I think we did that tonight.”
Trotz significantly shook up three of his four lines with Kyle Palmieri missing the game after his wife gave birth to their first child. Fourth-liner Cal Clutterbuck was elevated to Barzal’s right wing on the top line. Burly Ross Johnston was put on second-line center Brock Nelson’s left wing. And Anthony Beauvillier, Nelson’s usual linemate, took Clutterbuck’s spot with Cizikas and Matt Martin.
“Anytime you go into a night with a new linemate, a new setup, you want to have a great game, have communication and build that chemistry from the get-go,” said Lee, who deflected defenseman Ryan Pulock’s shot from the right point with his skate for a 3-0 lead at 3:56 of the first period.
“You could see tonight that if there was a lack of chemistry, it got fixed by us playing the right way, moving our legs. Then, things start to come pretty easy.”
Only Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line with Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom remained intact.
“I think we’ve been playing well together as of late,” said Parise, who opened the scoring at 3:25, with Brock Nelson’s deflection of All-Star defenseman Adam Pelech’s shot making it 2-0 18 seconds later. “We’re getting more and more familiar with each other. We’re talking a lot, learning where the other guys are. When you see a lot of lineup changes but they keep your line together, you feel like you’re doing the right things together.”
The Islanders notched five goals in a first period for the first time since 1996, chasing ex-Islander Jaroslav Halak after he gave up the quintet on 12 shots in 16:19.
Beauvillier set up Cizikas at the crease for a 4-0 lead at 13:11 as each line contributed a goal. Barzal ended Halak’s night, lifting the puck off Lee’s feed on the rush at 16:19.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, shooting through Nils Hoglander’s screen, cut it to 5-1 at 18:56 and the Canucks added two more goals in a lopsided second period. Elias Pettersson skated out of the right corner, around Pulock and slid the puck past Sorokin’s right pad to make it 5-2 at 13:04. Defenseman Luke Schenn, who tried to spark the Canucks by fighting Johnston 10 seconds after Parise’s opening goal, made it 5-3 at 14:35 on a shot that deflected off Cizikas.
All-Star goalie Thatcher Demko stopped the first 14 shots he faced after relieving Halak
but Cizikas fed Martin for a 6-3 lead at 14:19 of the third period to finally get some breathing room.