The New York Islanders' meeting with the first-place Montreal Canadiens started out as ugly as recent games against the Rangers and Flyers: Lifeless, mistake-prone, with all the signs of a very rough night ahead.
Instead of wilting like they did in the 7-0 drubbing by the Flyers, however, the Islanders used their powerplay to storm back like they did against the Rangers. The result was similar, with a 4-3 OT win in Montreal.
Thomas Hickey was the hero of record, getting his first NHL goal in just about the coolest way imaginable for the 2007 4th-overall pick who has taken the long, long path to the NHL. But Matt Moulson and Frans Nielsen -- with big helpings from John Tavares and, yes, Josh Bailey -- notched the goals that made Hickey's sudden-death winner possible.
After trudging through the first period, getting outscored 2-0 and outshot 14-3, the Islanders got one of those "We're still in this!" boosts by converting on the powerplay just 34 seconds into the second period. Moulson deflected a Mark Streit one-timer from the point.
Eight minutes later the Canadiens got their two-goal lead back, however, and as the second period wound down it looked like the Habs would carry the day. However, another powerplay and another finish by Moulson -- this time on a one-time feed of a Tavares pass from behind the net -- pulled the Isles back to within one three minutes before the second intermission.
Midway through the third, Josh Bailey led a rush up the right wing boards -- the side from which he is always more effective -- and pulled up at the blueline to feed a streaking and wide open Frans Nielsen. Nielsen used the ample space to whip a hard wrist shot past Carey Price's glove and tie the game at 3-3.
Despite having to kill three third-period powerplays, the Isles outshot Montreal 8-4 in the third and deservedly wiped away the awful start. They made mistakes galore on their goals allowed -- with top pairing Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald being guilty parties on two of them, and a horrid penalty kill breakdown being guilty on the other -- but somehow they rallied from what had all the appearances of a depressing night.
Overtime was overtime: 4-on-4 back-and-forth play until something broke. The break came on a nicely executed entry with speed into the Canadiens zone, Tavares pulling up to feed Michael Grabner as he Tavares fell down, Grabner offering no hesitation as he hit Hickey with a diagonal pass for the tap-in.
The joy on Hickey's face, and his teammates' faces (including Lubomir Visnovsky, a fellow former King), was priceless.
- It shouldn't be overlooked that Evgeni Nabokov made some big saves when the game could have gotten away from them. Sure, one came after he got completely shaken out of position (one of those saves where it was dramatic, but it was dramatic because the net was gaping open). That said, with 30 saves he held them long enough for the comeback.
- Hard to complain about Visnovsky, but his two penalties were of the variety you can't have. Particularly the one with just minutes left in a tie game, when he interfered with Max Pacioretty (who scored twice) behind the goal and appeared not to understand why he was called. A good 15-20 feet short of the loose puck, he used "old NHL" interpretation of where one can begin battling someone else for the puck.
- Ice Hogs: It was 26 minutes each for Hamonic and Streit, and 28 for Visnovsky. At the other end, just 8:36 for Joe Finley, who also missed time for a boarding of Lars Eller and an ensuing fight with Brandon Prust where Finley's reach made it no contest.
- That's goals 8 and 9 on the season for Moulson, who just quietly puts together 30-goal seasons. Remarkably, he's actually on an even greater pace (for a full 82-game season) this year.
- As nice as the comeback was, as much as the Isles rebounded from the gutter in the first period, this recipe was still the same as other wins: Heavy reliance on the top line (they each played near 20 minutes or more) and the powerplay. That's a recipe to win some games; it's also a recipe for dependence on things that can't be counted on to succeed every night.
- So many things went wrong on the Canadiens second goal that it's overwhelming to diagram, but: Streit followed the puck carrier up high but lost the physical battle and fell. Thomas Hickey made a desperate diving lunge at David Desharnais, leaving an easy pass to Pacioretty out in front, who was uncovered by Matt Martin. (At first glance, looked like Casey Cizikas got more of Martin's PK shifts in the third period.)
- Josh Bailey giveth, and Josh Bailey taketh away: His assist on the Nielsen goal was Bailey at his best. His turnover behind the Isles net on Pacioretty's second goal was symptomatic of when he is not strong or safe enough with the puck. (It's possible the puck hung up on the boards, but it looked like he tried to close it with his feet and still lost the battle.)
- This was, obviously, a feel-good comeback win for the Isles. It still leaves them three points and four teams out of eighth, however, which much work to do at five-on-five.
- Enough of the quibbles for now though. We try to balance the highs and lows, win or loss. Enjoy this one and Hickey's utter joy, and his teammates' joy for him.
The Other Side
If you wallow in piling on Isles defensive mistakes, you'll see that the Habs Eyes on the Prize' instant reaction feels your pain.
Game Thread Comment of the Night
Hickey! YAY! Three Year Contracts for all!!!!!
Saturday they face the Sabres, who lost Ron Rolston's debut 3-1 tonight in Toronto.