The New York Islanders legitimately outplayed the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, continuing a weird streak across multiple years where the Wings have had trouble taking points from the Isles. The end result, a shootout win (5-4), makes the Islanders 6-0-1 against Detroit over their last seven meetings, with their last regulation loss coming in 2003.
This one required some perseverance, help from a power play ledger weighted in their favor, and strong work from all four lines to outchance the Wings over the final 40 minutes. But it wasn't without the vagaries of their recent slump, giving up goals soon after scoring themselves and blowing another chance to seal a regulation win in the third period.
Oh, also: Starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov left the game with a groin injury just 4:12 into the game.
After the Wings jumped on an early Isles 1-0 lead to enter the first intermission up 2-1, the had the better of play through the rest of the game (helped, somewhat, by a power play that had multiple chances but only one conversion). The Red Wings had scoring chances at 5-5 in the first period and then 9-3 for the Isles in the second.
The Isles then outshot Detroit 15-4 in the third period and 6-1 in overtime (again, including a two-minute OT power play). But the way things have gone lately, the second point wasn't achieved until Frans Nielsen converted a shootout Backhand of Judgment and Kevin Poulin stopped all three Wings shooters -- including Pavel Datsyuk doing his thing, and Todd Bertuzzi doing some absurd slow, All-Star game "I'm pointing at the net" thing -- during their breakaway drill.
Even though the Islanders gave up the tying goal in the last minute, I cannot file this under the "they can't hold leads" meme. The Isles did everything they should to try to extend the lead in the third, but it didn't go their way and then a puck bounced off a defenseman's elbow and tied the game.
Ultimately, a desperately needed win for the Isles against a tough opponent playing the second of a back-to-back. We'll take it.
Tavares Tonic: Obviously the cure for a slump is to get out there with John Tavares. Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner weren't on his line, but they were still out there when Tavares came on, and it was Bailey's toss toward the net which Tavares deflected for a goal just 4:03 in.
It was a nice redirection, but slow enough that Jonas Gustavsson would surely want it back. It was Bailey's first point in 11 games.
Though Bailey was the one of the struggling pair to get on the board, Grabner was the one who asserted himself all over the ice, forechecking well as the Isles worked to tie the game, gain the lead, and try to extend it in the third period.
Goalie Problems: After getting an early 1-0 lead, the Isles were impressively derelict to allow the Red Wings a breakaway -- no, a 2-on-0 -- just nine seconds later. Darren Helm's shot didn't force an out-of-the-ordinary stretch from Nabokov, but something popped [video]. It was the first Wings shot on goal, and Nabby stayed down, eventually limping off straight to the dressing room. Kevin Poulin, not starting for the first time in four games, was on the ice just 4:12 in.
About That Goal: There originally weren't any assists credited (that was changed later), but it began right from the center-ice faceoff (lost by John Tavares) with a nice stretch pass from Jonathan Ericsson, which Matt Carkner appeared to misplay off his skate at the Islanders blueline, sending it straight to Helm.
Then Another Goal: Detroit made it 2-1 late in the first by striking quickly on a power play with Matt Donovan in the box for hooking. Mikael Samuelsson sent a high shot from the point, which Pavel Dastyuk deflected downward and past Poulin. It was Datsyuk's first-ever goal against the Islanders, making the Maple Leafs the only NHL team he hasn't scored against.
Then Chaos: Datyuk's goal was at 17:18 of the first period. It would be more than 20 minutes before another goal was scored, but when it finally came it was contagious.
First, at 17:53 of the second Casey Cizikas scored his second goal of the season (and in as many games) by converting another prototypical fourth-line follow-the-bounce-and-grind goal. As with last game, he worked well to get to the loose puck and the final move in alone on the goalie was a formality.
But this is an Islanders highwire act, right? So the Wings got their one-goal lead back just 33 seconds later, Johan Franzen given way too much space at the top of the slot to send a shot through traffic and past a deep Poulin.
That goal at 18:23 could have been a massive deflator, but the Islanders caught a break and made sure to use it: Luke Glendening went off for tripping at 18:50, and the Isles appeared determined to make this power play work. It took only 20 seconds, with Brock Nelson hammering away at a rebound at the top of the crease to notch his third NHL goal.
Taking The Lead: The Isles caught another "break" of sorts before the second period ended when Franzen was sent off for four minutes on a double minor for high sticking Andrew MacDonald. It was karmic that the refs caught this one, as they missed a bloody Kyle Quincey high stick suffered by Cal Clutterbuck behind the play earlier in the period.
The Islanders couldn't convert on that double-minor -- though it was a well-run power play where they did everything but score -- but they didn't let up after the Red Wings kill. There was no "momentum shift" from this successful PK by Detroit, and the Islanders kept pressuring.
The go-ahead goal came via good work from Peter Regin on the forecheck, then winning the puck in the corner and feeding Aaron Ness at the point. Ness' shot was deflected by and originally credited to Clutterbuck, but both he and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were there and each appeared to think they'd scored. (Credit was later changed to Bouchard. They can probably arm wrestle over it tomorrow.)
Blowing The Lead: The Isles actually did just about everything right once they gained the third period lead. They didn't let up, they forechecked well, they kept pressing the Wings and created multiple chances that required Gustavsson heroics or other intervention to keep players like Regin, Brock Nelson, Michael Grabner and Matt Martin from scoring on good chances.
But it wasn't to be, and a scramble to Poulin's left led to what we've almost come to expect: A backbreaking tying goal in the final minute, this time Datsyuk backhanding it to the net from a bad angle, and taking a fortuitous bounce off Andrew MacDonald's elbow and into the goal.
On to overtime, the eighth time this season for the Wings and sixth time for the Isles.
One More Break: The Isles caught one more potential break in overtime when they received yet another power play (their sixth, to the Wings' one) as Ericsson was whistled off on a debatable call. The Isles called a timeout -- Mike Babcock-approved, we assume -- with Doug Weight outlining an approach. But the 4-on-3 wasn't effective, and another chance went wasting.
In fact, the Wings got a 2-on-1 late in that stretch, but Frans Nielsen of all people -- a forward playing the power play point -- did well to break it up on Danny DeKeyser's pass.
Few more notes: He wasn't mentioned above, but Travis Hamonic had a hell of a game, defensively and pinching in to create chances. ... Brock Nelson too was a noticeable force. ... Kevin Poulin looked hairy at times (on non-goals, the goals were mostly through traffic), but he did well to come in cold, the tying goal was a bad bounce, and he was fantastic in the shootout.
Quote of the Night
"Must be tough on the Islanders, who have had trouble closing out games the way the Red Wings have."
--Chris Osgood, Fox Sports-Whatever
You could say that, yeah. Even a mostly deserved/earned win did not come without things tossed, finger nails chewed, expletives shouted, and then some.