"The game is 60 minutes, not 20," etc., and all the other familiar but true cliches stand. That said, the New York Islanders looked in serious trouble with the way the Dallas Stars dominated the first period Sunday night, entering the first intermission down 2-0.
Things looked only marginally more promising when, 35 minutes of much improved effort later, the Isles had only grabbed one goal back, that being Kyle Okposo's midway through the second period. Time was running out, and this time the Isles would pay for their first-period sins.
But then Okposo proved the worst shots are the ones you don't take, and Calvin de Haan took his Lubomir Visnovsky impression to the next level, and suddenly the Isles had the lead with just 1:24 left in regulation. An empty netter sealed the final score of 4-2, Islanders.
Okposo's description matches what it felt like to watch from afar, knowing the Isles had completed several recent comebacks and were pushing the way they should:
"We knew we could turn it around," said Okposo. "We had to try and come out and have a better second period. I thought we still came out a little slow in the second period, but we started to tilt the ice and by the end of that period I thought we had all the momentum. We came out in the third and we were going hard at them, but we just couldn’t put the puck in the net. [Ellis] made some really good saves and we were finally able to get one and find a way to win."
All you can do is try to "tilt the ice," and push. Even when it was 2-1 with the Isles swarming, there were moments where it all could have fallen apart had Kevin Poulin not made a save. Hockey is cruel and unfair in countless ways so you just hope your 55% wins out over the foe's 45% more often than not.
And even with Okposo's tying goal, his second of the game, things could have gone either way had Calvin de Haan not done something that, well, the Isles have been missing ever since Lubomir Visnovsky got hurt in October: Faced with an opportunity to panic-dump the puck up ice or otherwise make the safe play under pressure, de Haan instead carried through the neutral zone, and followed up his pass with a rush into the Stars zone.
They never knew what hit them.
Among the keys to de Haan's play (see video above):
- He doesn't rush his outlet, but rather waits for the play and lanes to develop. (He also did this on Okposo's tying goal.)
- He notes that John Tavares is back at the Isles blueline as an outlet and safety to cover him in case his foray misfires in the neutral zone.
- When he finds Thomas Vanek with his pass through the neutral zone, he keeps going ... and though it's hairy, he successfully receives Vanek's return pass with some momentum into the Stars zone.
- He doesn't fall for the Stars defense's desperation moves -- particularly Trevor Daley diving and swimming -- and waits the opening to whip a pass to Tavares, who has kept pace with him since they both left the Isles blueline two zones back.
And one more key point about this game-winner: The puck was wobbling, so despite the good pass and location it was no slam dunk for Tavares. That's likely why he dropped to one knee to be sure he was able to get good wood (er, one-piece composite whatever) on it and park it upstairs.
Finally, Tavares got a kick out of the look on the face of de Haan, his junior teammate back in 2009, who's taken a long injury-ridden road to become teammates once again:
"Cal made a heck of a pass," Tavares said. "I loved his reaction, he almost didn’t know what to do."
Yeah, winning is fun like that.
- [Bits] A case of de Mondays
- New York Islanders 4, Dallas Stars 2: Comeback routine for Okposo, Tavares and company
- Sound Tigers Struggles Worsen without Ryan Strome, Matt Donovan, injuries
- Thomas Vanek Realistic on Contract Extension Talks with New York Islanders
- Diagram: The Subtle Brilliance of John Tavares' Hat Trick Goal vs. Dallas Stars