NEW YORK -- In a span of 12 weeks, the New York Islanders have gone from the worst team in the NHL to a playoff contender, doing what it has to do in beating up on the worst team in the NHL.
Anders Lee scored a pair of third period goals Sunday as the Islanders continued their recent surge by pulling away from the Colorado Avalanche, 5-1, at Barclays Center.
With their third win in the last four games, the Islanders (25-19-10) moved within one point of the idle Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. New York visits Toronto on Tuesday.
"We've obviously made our games meaningful now, which is what we wanted," Islanders center and captain John Tavares said. "So hopefully we can keep it going."
The Islanders had the fewest points in the NHL entering play Nov. 28 but are 19-9-6 since then, including 8-2-2 since interim head coach Doug Weight was promoted Jan. 17.
"You learn a lot from when you face that kind of adversity earlier in the season, where you seem to be doing everything you can to do the right thing and you're losing games over and over," Lee said. "It's extremely frustrating as a group. But we've been resilient and stuck together as a team and that's paid off for us."
This playoff chase is decidedly different than the ones the Islanders participated in the previous two seasons, when they established a top-eight spot in October and held on despite struggling down the stretch.
"We're coming from behind and it's a position that we haven't been in the last two years," Lee said. "It's just nice to really have the flow and the momentum of chasing other teams down."
The Islanders built momentum with each period Sunday, when the Avalanche took a brief lead on Joe Colborne's goal 8:12 after faceoff. Nick Leddy tied the game just 3:49 later.
The score remained knotted until Ryan Strome's power-play goal with 5:14 left in the second. The Islanders piled on in the third, when Lee scored almost exactly 10 minutes apart before Jason Chimera added a goal with 6:12 left.
"You have to step on throats, there's no doubt about it," Weight said. "Especially playing at home. You're a little worried going into that third period that if they get a break early, they get some belief."
The Islanders, who suffered just their second shutout defeat of the season in Saturday's 3-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators, have scored at least four goals in 17 of their last 34 games.
"Obviously, we've had to come out of a hole and we're not really quite out of there, we're still battling hard, we've still got a lot of work ahead of us," Tavares said. "There's no quit in here. We play right to the end. We knew there was a long way to go and we believed in our group."
Jean Francois-Berube earned his second victory in six starts this season by recording 26 saves.
Calvin Pickard made 28 saves for the NHL-worst Avalanche (15-36-2) but gave up three third-period goals for the second straight night. Colorado carried a one-goal lead into the third period Saturday, when it fell to the New York Rangers, 4-2.
The Avalanche opened the season 9-9-0 but has gone 6-27-2 -- a stretch in which it has been outscored 55-20 in the third period
"It's third periods -- we've gone in with the lead a lot of times and ended up throwing it away," Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie said. "We didn't have any pushback in the third (on Sunday)."
Colborne's goal was his first since the season opener on Oct. 15, when he collected a hat trick.
"It's no secret," Barrie said. "We have to play a really good game if we want to win."
-- The Islanders scratched RW Cal Clutterbuck (lower body) as well as D Scott Mayfield and C Alan Quine. Clutterbuck has missed the last five games and six of the past seven with a pair of unrelated lower-body injuries. Interim head coach Doug Weight said Clutterbuck skated this weekend and is getting closer to a return.
-- G Jaroslav Halak, who opened the season as the Islanders' starter but was waived Dec. 30 and eventually assigned to Bridgeport of the AHL, won his 10th straight decision for Bridgeport on Sunday.
-- The Avalanche scratched LW Rene Bourque (head), who has missed the last five games, as well as D Patrick Wiercioch.
-- Avalanche D Tyson Barrie returned to the Colorado lineup after missing the previous four games with a lower-body injury.