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Islanders’ lineup changes pay off in dominant win over Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Islanders needed something to change after the 80 minutes that spanned their game Sunday at Seattle and the first period of their game Tuesday against the Canucks.

Across those four periods, the Islanders looked incapable of breaking out of their own zone, couldn’t buy a rebound and couldn’t get a body in front of a goaltender. It added up to a disheartening loss to the Kraken and an early deficit to the Canucks that might have turned into a blowout on another night.

On this night, though, the Canucks only led by a goal after the first period, leaving more than enough room for the Islanders to get themselves right. And get right they did, as Jean-Gabrial Pageau scored twice and Mathew Barzal had a goal and two assists in a 6-2 victory at Rogers Arena.

A shuffling of the forward lines by coach Lane Lambert seemed to set the Islanders right at the start of the second period. Anthony Beauvillier skated with Pageau and Zach Parise on the third line, with Hudson Fasching moving to Beauvillier’s spot alongside Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. Casey Cizikas, who started the game at wing, was shuffled back to center with Josh Bailey and Barzal on his wings.

Zach Parise (right) celebrates after Jean-Gabriel Pageau (left) scores on Spencer Martin during the Islanders' 6-2 win over the Canucks.
Zach Parise (right) celebrates after Jean-Gabriel Pageau (left) scores on Spencer Martin during the Islanders’ 6-2 win over the Canucks.

Only 2:26 into the second period, though, Aatu Raty scored the tying goal after he had played just 1:39 in the first. Raty caught Vancouver netminder Spencer Martin going the wrong way and sent a wrist shot to the far post.

That set the stage for the Islanders’ three-goal second period. The second of those tallies came from Pageau on the power play — the second time in three games the Islanders have gotten a power-play goal after a scoreless drought that reached 27 tries.

With those units reshuffled as well, Pageau got on Ryan Pulock’s rebound at 12:56 of the period. Then Barzal went top shelf on Martin to make it 3-1 at 16:26 following a turnover by Tyler Myers in Vancouver’s defensive zone.

The Islanders were not completely out of the woods yet. Bo Horvat scored his second goal of the night, on a power play with barely a minute left in the period, to cut the lead to 3-2 before the third period started. The Islanders had left him alone in the slot and he beat Ilya Sorokin off a one-timer.

Ross Johnston jumps out of the way of the puck as Spencer Martin makes a save during the Islanders' win.
Ross Johnston jumps out of the way of the puck as Spencer Martin makes a save during the Islanders’ win.

If the Canucks had a comeback on their minds, though, Lee quickly put a dent in those hopes, capitalizing on another Vancouver turnover in its own zone and making it 4-2 at 1:46 of the third. Cizikas followed with a wrister off Barzal’s no-look assist at 9:44 to serve as the dagger. And Pageau scored his second goal of the night on an empty-better with just over two minutes left.

Horvat scored the opener at 18:23 of the first, when he tipped Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s shot past Ilya Sorokin for a 1-0 Vancouver lead. Sorokin finished with 24 saves in his first win of 2023.

That Horvat goal put a cap on an opening 20 minutes in which the Islanders were badly outskated, a continuation of the nightmare loss in Seattle two days earlier.

Something had to change, and indeed, it did.

Instead of traveling to Edmonton for their game Thursday trying to figure out how to rebound from a second straight loss, the Islanders will do so having won three of their last four, and — at least for the time being — jumping above the Penguins in the standings for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

As bad as the loss at Seattle was, it’s far outweighed by the Islanders’ other performances lately. Even including the game Sunday, they have outscored opposition 19-8 since Dec. 23.

Quietly, they have accrued a convincing case that they don’t need to rely solely on Sorokin to get them wins, as they have at points this season.

If they can move past doing so for good, they just might put together something dangerous.

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