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Islanders riding road toward playoffs

The SportsXchange

WINNIPEG -- It's a good bet the New York Islanders will begin the 2013 playoffs away from home.

Judging by their play away from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum this season, the Islanders won't mind that a bit.

New York defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4, in a shootout on Saturday, as John Tavares fired the winner by beating goalie Ondrej Pavelec through the pads to silence the Jets' faithful at MTS Centre.

The Islanders (24-16-5) have earned points in 10 straight games and are 11-1-2 in their last 14 games.

New York has back-to-back victories to begin a season-ending five-game trip. The club is 14-5-2 away from Long Island, N.Y.

The Jets (23-19-3) had been riding a five-game winning streak, all at home. Winnipeg has picked up 11 of 12 points since April 6.

Islanders' forward Brad Boyes and Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd traded goals in the shootout, setting the stage for Tavares, the club's third shooter, to win it for New York.

The crafty center, who was held off the scoresheet during regulation play, said the Islanders' success on the road really comes from an all-hands-on-deck approach.

"We seem to have good confidence and composure in any situation on the road, whether we're down or up, we get the lead or give up the lead or we have a slow start," Tavares said. "We just seem to be comfortable on the road. We get contributions from everybody.

"Three of our four lines scored (Saturday), other guys were blocking shots and Nabbie (goalie Evgeni Nabokov) was making some big saves, all the things we had to do to win."

The victory vaulted the Islanders over the Ottawa Senators and into a fifth-place tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the tight Eastern Conference, before Saturday night's action.

The Jets remained ninth in the conference, a point back of the idle New York Rangers.

Tavares, who has yet to compete in the post-season as a fourth-year pro, said the game had a unique feel to it.

"It's April ... we knew it would have a playoff atmosphere," Tavares said. "You could sense it in the locker room before the game, and during the game.

"We knew the importance of this game and the atmosphere in this building. It's a special place to play in. We knew it was going to be loud and they were going to come with a lot of energy and how important the two points were."

Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey, Matt Martin and Michael Grabner scored for New York, who led, 4-3, until late in the third period, when Bryan Little tied the game on the power play for Winnipeg.

The Jets' top center took a pass in his skates from Andrew Ladd, kicked the puck to his stick and beat Nabokov at 17:59.

Kyle Wellwood scored two second-period goals for Winnipeg, while Zach Bogosian also scored for the Jets.

Little said his club has no time to lament missing out on what could prove to be a very important point when the season concludes next weekend.

"We have to take positives from this game," he said. "We could have gotten no points, so we'll take the one point. If you had told us we would have had this good of a home stand, we would have taken it."

Both clubs had spectacular chances to score in overtime.

Jets' blueliner Grant Clitsome, all alone in the slot, hit the goal post, and then Wellwood's shot was stopped by a sliding Lubomir Visnovsky, who bailed out his goalie.

Pavelec, meanwhile, made a mammoth pad save on Matt Moulson in the final minute of overtime.

Islanders' blueliner Travis Hamonic, who was raised on the family farm about 40 miles from Winnipeg, said it was a fun game to play.

"It seemed like there was a lot of physical play and almost a sense of a rivalry there," Hamonic said. "We're trying to keep those teams behind us, and obviously the Jets are one of those teams."

New York forward Kyle Okposo and Bogosian had a running feud for much of the game. They tried to square off late in the second period, but were tied up by the linesman.

Okposo, who registered two assists, said he expected the game to be heated.

"It was a really good hockey game, a playoff-type atmosphere, I think," he said. "There were a lot of momentum swings throughout the game."

The Islanders outshot the Jets, 33-28.

The Islanders opened the scoring 4:21 into the first period when Nielsen took a pass from Okposo and whipped a low shot through the legs of Pavelec for his sixth goal of the year.

Just over six minutes later, Bogosian hammered a slapshot that beat Nabokov cleanly to even the score, 1-1.

But the Isles' second line cashed in again before the period was over when Bailey, set up nicely by Okposo, scored his 10th goal with a quick shot through Pavelec's pads.

New York built a 3-1 lead when Martin scored his fourth of the season at the 9:47 mark of the middle frame.

But Wellwood notched two goals in under three minutes, the first coming on a rebound and the second on a breakaway, as the Winnipeg pulled even, 3-3.

Both times the veteran center showed patience and waited for Nabokov to make a move before firing the puck high into the net.

The Jets thought Wellwood had the hat-trick goal on a two-man advantage, but replays showed the puck entered the net right after the period ended.

Grabner scored at 9:13 of the third period, busting to the front of the net and redirecting a pass from the corner by Andrew MacDonald into the net.

Little's power-play goal to tie the game late came only seven seconds after Visnovsky was called for interference.

NOTES: Jets' center Olli Jokinen was injured early in the first period and did not return. He entered the game one goal shy of 300 and three points short of 700 for his NHL career. ... The Jets will play their next two games on the road against Buffalo and Washington before ending the regular season at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. ... The Islanders close out the 2013 campaign with road games in Carolina, Philadelphia and Buffalo. ... Winnipeg has not allowed a power-play goal in seven straight home games, killing off 16 straight during that stretch. ... New York a 3-5-2 road record, on pace for the best mark in franchise history. ... Islanders' winger Matt Martin leads the league with 216 hits. During the 2011-12 season, he also led the NHL with 374 hits, the highest total since hits became an official league statistic in 2005-06. ... The Islanders are 16-3-3 this season when scoring the first goal of the game.
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