Pinch me. The feel-good Matt Moulson story is real (and here's a great version of it at nhl.com). Two more even-strength goals from the 26-year-old last night were a boon to tuned-in fantasy owners everywhere and fuel for more joy among Islanders fans. As the final seconds ticked away and Trent Hunter iced things with an empty-netter, the [some-bank-or-enema-or-something-brand] Garden in Boston emptied out except for ... "Let's Go Islanders" chants? December 2008 this is not.
Said the eminently likable Moulson after the win, in which he told officials the third goal was not his first career hat trick but in fact linemate John Tavares's ninth NHL goal:
"Johnny'd kill me if I took one of his goals. Yeah, I told them I didn't score. I'm an honest guy...
... My future brother-in-law Sean [texted] me he needed a big fantasy night out of me tonight."
A little bit of fun for Doug Weight's two tenants and the Isles' top two scorers. And so many ingredients to a refreshing regulation win -- the first win in which a goalie saved their bacon early so they could run away with it in the third.
The critical moment -- and where Dwayne Roloson bailed them out most of all -- was the first-period 1:35-long Bruins 5-on-3. You need luck, smarts, and big saves to kill off 95 seconds of two-man advantage, and the Islanders got all three. Their positioning was perfect, and Nate Thompson performed the
Sybil crazy courageous job of standing in front of Zdeno Chara's heavy slapshots, which were coming from even closer in than normal thanks to the extra space.
Roloson even made the initial save on the Bruins' lone goal, but Andy Sutton -- spinning pretty aimlessly with the puck around his feet -- couldn't break up the pass nor clear the rebound.
The Story of A Forecheck Done Right
Beyond that and the worst faceoff performance of this road trip, the Islanders simply created their opportunities through the Gordon forecheck and took advantage of them:
Tavares forced a Tuukka Rask turnover that Richard Park fed to the front for Moulson's second goal near the end of the 2nd. And don't underestimate just how difficult that one-time/redirect was by Moulson. With 30 seconds left, Trent Hunter repeated the feat on the forecheck, feeding Jon Sim who hit the post. Early in the third, Park again pressured behind the Bruins net, stole the puck, and got his third assist when he fed Tavares at the back door. (The shot went off a defenseman's skate,
where Moulson could have tapped it in but instead chose not to make Johnny kill him.)
Early on, it was clear the B's were in Claude Julien trap mode -- how many times did you watch the islanders two defensemen slowly carry it out of their zone, because the opponents were waiting in the neutral zone? So it was nice to see the Islanders not panic with trap-drunk frustration, and instead capitalize by playing their game. For 60 minutes. Hardly a dominating performance (outshot 29-21, in part thanks to 4 shots on the 5-on-3), but all of the right factors and timing came together to create what became a sure win mid-way through the third. Such a difference from the last time the Islanders held a late lead over Boston.
Stat Sheet Oddity of the Night: Richard Park got the second assist on Moulson's first goal, but did not receive a "plus." He was on the bench by the time Hillen -- who Park passed to -- had rushed behind the Isles net and fed Moulson.
'This is our concern, Dude' Stat of the Night: The Islanders were again butchered in the faceoff circle, 43-18. Tavares was best at 6-8. Previously reliable Nate Thompson was 2-9 in the defensive zone alone.
Top Line of the Night: With all even-strength goals, the top line did not miss Kyle Okposo on its right wing this night: Richard Park gathered three assists, playing in Okposo's spot while Okposo paired with Frans Nielsen. Not a long-term solution, but as usual Park's versatility gets it done.
Bottom Line of the Night: With a win, the Islanders -- who have played the most games (21) of any Eastern Conference team -- are tied for sixth in points with Philadelphia and ... the Rangers. The Rangers have one game in hand. The Isles are 5-2-2 in their last nine games.
Parting Quote: From Moulson again, when asked how it felt not to go to OT [joking]: "It was weird. I was expecting to play another five. I was saving a little in the tank for that last five minutes."