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Rookie Lee helps Islanders beat Jets, move into playoff picture

The SportsXchange

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- After scoring a goal on his first NHL shot, what can Anders Lee possibly do for an encore? How about helping the New York Islanders reach the playoffs for the first time since he was in high school?

Lee scored the Islanders' first goal Tuesday night, when New York came back from a second period deficit to beat the reeling Winnipeg Jets, 5-2, at Nassau Coliseum and move into the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders (18-16-3) won for the fifth time in their past six games to break an eighth-place tie with the idle New York Rangers and tie the New Jersey Devils for seventh place at 39 points.

"We talked about it this summer when we met with our guys, that the last month, they wanted to play meaningful games," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "And they're in a position to do that now."

The Islanders have not made the playoffs since the 2006-07 season, way back when Lee and nine of his new teammates were still teenagers.

"It's real special," Lee said of his debut. "These guys have been working hard all year, and if I can come in and help them out at all, it's what I'm here to do."

Frans Nielsen's power play goal in the final minute of the second period gave the Islanders the lead for good while Colin McDonald, Matt Moulson and John Tavares all added a goal apiece for New York. Goalie Kevin Poulin made 23 saves in becoming the first Islanders goalie other than starter Evgeni Nabokov to record a win this year.

But the locker room was abuzz afterward about Lee's goal, which happened so quickly and in such a fluky fashion that it left him momentarily stunned.

Lee was off-balance along the left boards as Dustin Byfuglien tried poking the puck loose from behind him. But with Lee regained control long enough to get off a hurried shot, which sailed over the left shoulder of Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

After a brief pause, Lee grasped the magnitude of the moment, skated to a stop and pumped his fists as the crowd of 11,819 roared. Teammates mobbed Lee, who slapped the hands of everyone on the bench and hugged goalie Kevin Poulin.

"That's a shot you don't expect to go in that often and it just happened to go in the right place," Lee said. "I got pretty lucky. Definitely took a second to get through that."

Lee, 22, was selected by the Islanders in the sixth round of the 2009 draft but went to Notre Dame and didn't sign with New York until Monday, two days after Notre Dame was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

"First shot on goal, I don't know how many times that happens, but we talk about getting pucks to the net and it had eyes and it found its way in," Capuano said. "I thought he handled himself quite well."

While the Islanders remained red-hot in pursuit of their first playoff berth in six seasons, the Jets continued to sputter in their attempts to snap a similarly lengthy postseason drought.

Paul Postma scored both goals for Winnipeg (18-18-2), which has lost four in a row and saw its Southeast Division lead over Washington fall to two points.

The Jets/Atlanta Thrashers made the only postseason appearance in the team's 13-season history after winning the Southeast Division in 2006-07.

"As a group we have to figure out a way to get out of this and get going the right way," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "And as an individual, you have to figure out what you have to do to get to that next level. Because I don't think we're even close in here. It's not good enough."

The Jets are also trying to become the first Winnipeg-based NHL team to win a division title. The Jets, who joined the NHL during the WHA/NHL merger in 1979, never won a division title in 17 seasons before moving to Phoenix and becoming the Coyotes in 1996.

Goalie Ondrej Pavelec had 34 saves for the Jets.

Lee didn't have long to savor his first goal. Less than two minutes later, the Jets tied the score when Postma beat Lee to a loose puck in front of the Islanders' net and shot it past Poulin.

Postma extended the Jets' lead to 2-1 a little more than six minutes into the second when he took a crossing pass from Chris Thorburn -- who was trailing Lee and Eric Tangradi as they tangled for the puck -- and beat Poulin from the right side of the goalmouth.

The Islanders tied and took the lead on rebound goals later in the second. McDonald's wrist shot pulled the Islanders even at 9:56 before Nielsen's power play goal with 28 seconds left put New York ahead.

Moulson provided insurance with exactly two minutes left in the third when he took a crossing pass from Tavares and beat Pavelec to complete a 2-on-1. Tavares' empty-netter with 36 seconds left capped the scoring.

NOTES: The Islanders scratched winger Eric Boulton, defenseman Radek Martinek and center Marty Reasoner while the Jets scratched defensemen Grant Clitsome, Derek Meech and Arturs Kulda. ... During their first incarnation in Winnipeg, the Jets finished as high as second in a division just twice -- in 1981-82 (Norris Division) and 1984-85 (Smythe Division). ... Current Jets backup goalie Al Montoya was the last goalie other than Nabokov to win a game for the Islanders when he beat, coincidentally, the Jets on April 5, 2012. ... The Jets, who entered Tuesday as the only team in playoff position with a losing record at home (8-9-0), complete a three-game road trip at Montreal on Thursday before embarking upon a season-high six-game homestand from Apr. 6-20. ... The only teams in the NHL with longer playoff droughts than the Jets and Islanders are Toronto (last made playoffs in 2003-04) and Edmonton (last made playoffs in 2005-06).
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