If this game were part of a serious, nail-biting playoff race, I doubt my heart would've survived to see overtime. The Islanders played convincingly well throughout, hit four posts before they hit one net, earned three leads -- and held them for a combined nine minutes. Two of the leads, they handed back under 70 seconds later. But otherwise they got a really nice performance from all four lines, the first line being the only one not to register a goal.
The stars: Blake Comeau with the game-winner -- a tip of a Jurcina-like cannon from Radek Martinek -- and an assist on Michael Grabner's third-period go-ahead goal (his 27th). Frans Nielsen, as he is wont to do, set up that winner with great puck control down low, to add to his rebound goal in the first.
Josh Bailey though was the true standout on the line with Comeau and Matt Martin, as he bought time and space several times with JT-like moves. Both goalies were quite good, despite giving up seven combined goals, with James Reimer being asked to do more (36 saves plus five posts). Even Zenon Konopka got in on the scoring with a crash-the-net redirect goal. Again, this was a satisfying performance, but the blown leads nearly killed me, and if these games had make-or-break playoff implications, I'd be dead already.
Notes from the Cardiac Ward
- Not a highlight night for John Tavares, Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau. But they too created their chances, the best possibly being Tavares saucering Moulson through on a quick breakaway, where Moulson hit the post (naturally).
- Coincidence or something more? We'll see, but Martin (17:39, including 1:10 on PK, plus 14 hits) again appeared to open up a different element on that line. He went to the net -- he even got a breakaway that caused a penalty shot! (Reimer made good saves on both) -- he distracted defensemen, and Bailey and Comeau had space to play. If Martin really had 14 hits (it's always a dicey stat), then maybe he can both deliver a litany of hits while playing regular hockey on a non-energy line. We'll see.
- Seriously though, Bailey: He made the Leafs D look silly at times. Grabner's goal came after Bailey reached that mental realization where you have the puck and you are in the defender's kitchen and that defender just wants you to get rid of the puck so it can all be over. He had a similar moment at the end of the first, enabled by Martin.
- Comeau had an overall good game -- and the game-winning tip was sweet, and difficult. But he did have one critical half-COZO (Comeau Offensive Zone Orbit) late in the third, where he smartly bought time on the half boards...then threw a pass into shinguards high in the zone that led to a Leafs rush and scoring chance.
- That was Comeau's 19th goal. His next gives the Islanders four 20-goal scorers -- two draftees, one unheralded free agent signing, and one fantabulous gift from Dale Tallon.
- Just like Kyle Okposo, Nielsen and Grabner reliably churn out strong games, Al Montoya reliably gives this team a chance to win. His 24 saves on 27 shots are nothing remarkable by any means, but he made several of those big saves that cover mistakes and boost a team rather than suck the wind from their sails. Two of the goals in particular were in tight after pucks his defenders failed to win.
- Jack Hillen on the third Leafs goal was once such occasion. Also, Jurcina and Bruno Gervais were both culpable on Tim Brent's goal that tied it at 2-2 late in the second period, but I'll just say this about Gervais: It's his clearances that bug me. Of his flashes and weaknesses, this is the recurring one that gets me most, because it feels like a given you cannot count on. Before that goal he could have cleared, and maybe was trying to corral the puck, but the effect was a weak dump to the sideboards that Colby Armstrong happily gobbled up before driving the net to set up Brent's goal.
The Rough Stuff: It was a somewhat physical game but never quite over the edge. (Leave that for the Boston - Montreal clash tonight.) Dion Phaneuf, per habit, took a chance on a vulnerable player and drove Justin DiBendetto into the boards, the impact sending DiBo face-first. (To be fair, Butch Goring called it clean.) Micheal Haley answered immediately by throwing a late hit on Phaneuf and went to the box, but I'll take that two-minute punishment if it helps Phaneuf think twice about every chance to drive a prone Islander with extreme force.
FIG (First Islanders Goal pool): There was no FIG winner tonight, since no one picked Zenon Konopka (shock, I know). The idea was brought up to pick "SIG's" in the event no one gets the FIG. I think rather than have a pre-game thread for that, it might be a fun activity for those who are in the game thread to do once the first goal goes up and no one wins.
Elsewhere: Eighth-place Buffalo lost to Pittsburgh, so the Leafs actually gain ground there with the regulation point. New Jersey lost to Ottawa, which means the Isles are again just two points behind the Devils, even though one is in a media darling playoff race and the other is not.
Line Nicknames? Also brought up in the game thread was nicknames for these lines, now that they're somewhat stable. This could be a good topic to take up over the next few days. The "Cozmonauts" has me giggling for Comeau-Bailey-Martin.
Next: Next up is Friday night with the Bruins, who -- remember kids -- are not thugs like the Islanders, but rather practitioners of old-time hockey. The way both of these teams are playing, it should be a fun game and another good test for Jack Capuano as he faces Jacques Lemaire Jr.