UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The third period was often a dreaded 20 minutes for the New York Islanders this season.
With a near capacity crowd at Nassau Coliseum chanting, “We want playoffs,” the Islanders maintained their poise after Michael Grabner scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period and went on beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Tuesday night.
The surging Islanders won for the seventh time in nine games and moved two points ahead of the idle Rangers into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia (17-19-3) is 12th in the East, five points behind the Rangers and the post-season cutoff.
The Islanders, who won just two of their first 11 home games this season, have four consecutive wins at Nassau Coliseum. New York (20-16-4) is four games over .500 for the first time since Feb. 20, 2008.
“Everyone is feeding off the energy, and we’re excited,” said Islanders centre John Tavares, whose team-leading 24th goal made it 3-1 late. “We’re raising our game and getting better. And of course, the crowd tonight gave us a big boost.”
New York has been tied or ahead in the third period in 34 of 40 games and improved to 19-2-2 when they score at least three goals.
Jakub Voracek gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the first period.
Grabner scored his 13th goal of the season at 17:42 of the second with a snap shot from between the circles that eluded goalie Steve Mason, who made his first start for the Flyers since being acquired from Columbus on April 3.
After Tavares scored with 1:37 left, Casey Cizikas added an empty-net goal 28 seconds later. Fans also chanted, “Last-place Flyers” as time ran out.
“We have a singular focus, to play strong defence and elevate our game in the third period,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “The guys are believing in each other and playing hard.”
Voracek opened the scoring 6:28 in with his 17th goal. Voracek slid a backhand into the pads of Nabokov, whose momentum carried him and the puck into the net.
Matt Moulson tied it for the Islanders at 15:36 off a nifty pass from Brad Boyes after Tavares started the play. Boyes manoeuvred through the defence before backhanding the puck to Moulson, who snapped in his 13th goal.
No. 1 goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who has all of the Flyers’ wins this season, rested in favour of Mason.
Mason kept the Flyers in the game with several sharp saves, most notably stopping Kyle Okposo on a breakaway at 15:31 of the second.
“We still have nine games to play,” Flyers forward Simon Gagne said. “All we can do is to keep trying our best.”
The Flyers haven’t missed the playoffs since 2007, the last time the Islanders qualified for the post-season.
“It’s a great feeling right now,” said Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. “We know we can play with any team in the league.”
The Islanders will play six of their remaining eight games on the road, where they are 11-5-2.
“We’re focusing on one game at a time knowing that we control all of our cards in our hands,” Grabner said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
New York has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of their last nine games, yielding just 14 goals over that stretch. The Islanders haven’t allowed a power-play goal in a season-high six straight games.
The Islanders and Flyers split their first two games. Philadelphia won 7-0 at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 18, and the Islanders won in a shootout in Philadelphia on March 28. The teams will meet once more in Philadelphia.
NOTES: The Islanders announced they will play a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils on Sept. 21 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Islanders are scheduled to move to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season. .. The Flyers were without injured forwards Danny Briere, Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo and Jody Shelley as well as defencemen Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. … The Islanders scratched forwards Marty Reasoner, Eric Boulton and Anders Lee, and defenceman Radek Martinek. … The Flyers had two power plays. New York had only one.