Forget the breakaway contest thingy they used to award a bonus point: The New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks played a shockingly entertaining -- and in turns maddening -- game to a 4-4 tie through 65 minutes that featured 77 total shots (41 for the Isles, and never more than a one-goal margin).
Nino Niederreiter scored his first goal of the season midway through the third period on a sweet wrist shot to tie it at 4-4, and Jonathan Toews converted the only shootout attempt to make Hawks fans feel a little better about surviving the scare.
It was an insane game, with the Islanders appearing to take the Blackhawks by surprise in the first, taking a 2-1 lead. The Hawks returned to their dominant selves in the second period, entering the third with a 3-2 lead ... only to give up that lead twice as the Isles outshot them 23-7 in the final frame (with at least four of those Hawks shots coming in a final minute scramble).
The Fourth Line Giveth, and the Fourth Line Taketh Away
The line of Niederreiter with Marty Reasoner and Matt Martin, backed by Milan Jurcina and Steve Staios, was victimized on each of the Hawks' first two goals, but they made up for it in a big way when Reasoner's play up the boards found Martin, who found an open Niederreiter streaking through the middle.
Nino had a Hawks defensemen in pursuit, narrowing his potential to deke, so Nino pulled Corey Crawford to his left just enough while unleashing a low hard wrist shot to the far post. The kind of nice, in-the-clear finish that has been all too rare this season.
Nino (7:17 TOI) and Martin (9:28) appeared particularly late in getting back on the odd-man rush that led to Andrew Brunette's goal, so that bears watching as the 19-year-old continues to adjust to NHL hockey. It's frankly a fun process to watch: His physical tools are there, but three-zone play is the last part most young forwards pick up, so we'll see how it goes.
Tavares Still Snake-Bitten, But Gets a Couple of Points
John Tavares made some excellent plays throughout that deserved better, including an ankle-breaking move late in the third that squeaked through Crawford but stopped a foot short of going in. That could have, should have been the winner, but not during this slump.
Fortunately, on one of the Islanders' two powerplay goals against the awful Hawks PK Tavares was credited with an assist as P.A. Parenteau picked up a bounce in the slot (via Matt Moulson's body) and buried it to tie it at 3-3 early in the third period. Tavares also collected an assist on Moulson's excellent snipe late in the first to give the Isles a 2-1 lead.
Al Montoya Made This Possible
As competitive as the Islanders were in the first, and strangely dominant in the third, getting to OT wouldn't have been possible if not for Montoya standing on his head throughout the second period. (To be fair, Crawford did his part in the third, as did his posts.)
The best may have been in the first, when a bad Mark Streit pass ended up creating a great horizontal chance for the Hawks. Prone and sprawling, Montoya dropped his stick to free up his blocker hand, stopping the puck with the palm side of that glove. Watch here:
Here he is on Newsday, about playing in his hometown in the NHL:
"Emotionally, that's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in hockey," he said after making 32 saves. "It was also the neatest thing ever. But I'm glad it's over with."
Shootout: No Danish Joy
Frans Nielsen went back to his patented backhand as the first shooter, and Crawford was ready for it, but rather than it being too predictable I think Nielsen simply never sold enough of a forehand option to make Crawford doubt. Toews did an "early release" shot to sneak the puck by Montoya low before he was set. Nino tried multiple moves and almost ran out of room as he failed to convert his first career attempt. Matt Moulson, the last-ditch effort shooter, beat Crawford but hit his post.
Skills competition over, bonus point not won, but five points out of a possible six so far on this run of four consecutive games away from Nassau Coliseum.
- Mike Mottau also saved a goal and made a couple of other nice plays, to go with the usual. Dylan Reese, his partner, acquitted himself nicely.
- Jurcina and Staios, who weren't on the ice for Nino's goal, finished minus-3. Jurcina had 2:40 of PP time.
- Brian Rolston's point shots on the powerplay were more accurate tonight, creating good rebounds off of Crawford's pads, including the juicy one that Kyle Okposo converted to open the scoring.
- Late in OT, Josh Bailey corralled a puck in the Isles slot and tried to feed a breaking forward with a soft backhand pass rather than collect it back in the Isles zone. It was too similar to that turnover play against the Rangers for my liking.
- Elsewhere on Bailey's line, David Ullstrom kept doing what he's been doing, which is nice.
- Ugliest moment of the night could have been a real demoralizer: Jurcina was way too casual in his own slot, allowing Toews to victimize him for a shorthanded goal and a late second-period Hawks lead.
- Joel Quenneville kept Jonathan Toews away from Nielsen -- although on one of their few encounters together, Toews eluded Nielsen for a clear shot on Montoya -- as he made Tavares & Co. face Toews all night long. Tavares finished +1, Toews finished even, but that's not quite a reflection of how that matchup went. Each had their chances but Toews' line controlled play more. Still, I'm alright with how that matched up. It was actually the fourth line (combined with Jurcina-Staios) that ended up costing the Isles goals against.
Butch Goring Line of the Night:
"Looks like [Al Montoya] has some ... pretty interesting fans."
Runner-Up Goring Line of the Night:
An time he had to say "Niederreiter" fast.
Overall, pleasantly surprised by the entertainment and the chance to win as the game wound down. That may have been the Islanders' best third period of the season, and the multiple comebacks after the awful second period were a nice sign.
Also, Montoya. He's out $3800 on tickets for friends and family and gave up four goals, but it had to be a thrill to play to the shootout in Chicago, making 31 saves -- including his share of highlight makers.
Note: No separate plus/minus thread tonight, as with the team playing in Dallas tonight we'll have enough threads in the next 24 hours. Just leave your plus/minus analysis here.