The Islanders shook the home monkey off their backs for at least one night putting together a decisive victory and played what appeared to be playoff style hockey for a full sixty minutes. Of course it didn't always look that way and fans know that defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory at any time, but they clamped down when they needed to and denied the Jets time, space and shots...especially in their nemesis, the third period.
The Isles got off to another fast start outshooting the Jets 8-3 nine minutes into the game, but a Matt Carkner interference penalty helped to swing momentum toward Winnipeg for a few minutes. That is, until Anders Lee got off a quick wrist shot from the left wing circle for his first NHL goal on first NHL shot in first NHL game. Earlier, he buried Kyle Wellwood with a big open ice hit.
About two minutes later though, the Islanders gave it back when the Jets broke in 3 on 4 and somehow managed to get to a loose puck that sat in front of Kevin Poulin for what seemed like an eternity. It was Lee's man (Paul Postma) that put it home, but given that it was a 3 on 4, there were any number of culprits including Casey Cizikas, Matt Carkner, Mark Streit, and Poulin himself who Butch Goring indicated, could have been more aggressive on the play.
Brad Boyes had a particularly disasterous first period to the tune of 7 turnovers that I counted. There were a ton of bad passes and I've made better decisions in my teens than some of what he did with the puck. The teams went into intermission tied 1-1 with the Isles getting the better of the shots on goal 12-9.
As a wonderful rebuild note, Ryan Strome also scored his first pro goal on his first shot as well for the Sound Tigers.
The Islanders certainly looked every part a team that is in a playoff push in the second period. They absolutely dominated possession early; getting the first five shots, but as has become typical this season, a mistake blew up in their face. Anders Lee didn't get enough of Eric Tangradi on a check and had to take a delayed holding penalty. Tangradi shook loose, dished the puck to Chris Thorborn who floated a pass to an uncovered Paul Postma who tapped it in past Kevin Poulin.
From there, the Isles would bear down even harder. Colin McDonald netted his 7th of the year off of a beautiful touch pass from Michael Grabner who put it through his own legs to McDonald off to Ondrej Pavelec's left.
The Isles continued to forecheck hard and generate shots and when they finally got a power play, they finally remembered to throw some shots at the net. The second unit with Andrew McDonald and Mark Streit on the points launched a couple of bombs that created some huge rebounds. Josh Bailey got one back to Frans Nielsen who put it home through Bailey's screen with a no-mistake slap shot and the Isles took a 3-2 lead into the third. They outshot the Jets 18-8 in the period and led 30-17.
At the start of the third, the Isles came out a little tentative and ceded a scoring chance within the first minute. After that though, they absolutely stifled the Jets the rest of the way. The defense pressured the puck well and created turnovers at the blue line. The shots were 1-0 through 7:30. The forecheck was asserted its will with particular praise going to the Aucoin, Grabner, McDonald line who dominated zone time and created several scoring chances in the period.
Winnipeg moved Dustin Byfuglien to wing in the middle of the third to try to generate some offense, but the Isles undersized defense continued to play physically and limit his space. In one particular sequence, Thomas Hickey (after being crushed by Buff seconds before) ran Byfuglien into the boards and seperated him from the puck.Late in the period, after a solid scoring chance by the Jets, the Isles broke out 2 on 1 with John Tavares and Matt Moulson...you know the rest. JT fed Moulson a beautiful cross crease pass and Moulson buried a wrist shot over Pavelec for an insurance marker.
The Jets pulled Pavelec and mounted a bit of an offensive that Kevin Poulin fought off. It wasn't pretty, but he got it done. With 36 seconds left, the Isles got a clear and Tavares was able to pot an empty netter to make it look bad in the paper.And just like that, they're in playoff position. (Game in hand caveats still apply) At this point, the Isles have significant chance at the seventh seed, let alone the eighth. And given the difficulties both of the tri-state rivals are having and some injury concerns, you have to like the chances...especially if the worm has really turned at home.
- Anders Lee looks imposing when standing in front of the net. He could be a useful presence on the power play. He looked a bit faster than I expected, but did have some moments of wandering. He will get better when he gets some practice time under his belt.
- Great to hear the home crowd chant "We want playoffs!" during Frans Nielsen's first star of the game interview.
- Kevin Poulin played well and probably should get some more time if for no other reason than to not beat Nabokov into the ground.
- Brad Boyes looked much better in the second and third periods. He needs to get back into form, but generally isn't as bad as he was in the first.
- The middle six looked outstanding tonight. If they can continue to provide this kind of support for the Tavares line, this team is a playoff team. Let's hope they don't cool off.
- Matt Martin and Colin McDonald had 13 hits between them.
- The Isles won the shots (38-25), hits (23-17), blocked shots (19-16) and faceoff (26-22) battles tonight. A complete effort.