Well, the New York Islanders sure do keep it interesting.
Playing in St. Paul on the second half of a back-to-back, the Isles relived several familiar themes from this season while reversing an important one: They fell behind by multiple goals (check), let a former Isle score (check), stormed back to tie it (check), gave up the lead soon after taking it (check), and then
kicked us all in the stomach ... actually won the game? In regulation?
As you'd expect, they made none of it easy on the heart nor stomach.
Down 1-0 but lucky to be only so after the first period, the Isles promptly squandered that luck by falling behind 3-0 by 2:59 of the second period, Nino Niederreiter allowed to walk into the slot for the third goal. But then John Tavares got one back, and a promising second-period surge culminated in Cal Clutterbuck deflecting one in with just a minute left in the period after a great shift from that line and Thomas Hickey.
Suddenly the Islanders had "momentum" and just a one-goal deficit heading into the third period against a struggling foe.
Thomas Hickey would get that elusive tying goal, smartly reading an opening to pinch into the slot and deflect Colin McDonald's pass in. Then Kyle Okposo completed (ha) the turnaround at 12:13 by scoring on a blast of a shot from the right wing that Josh Harding should have stopped. That made it 4-3 for the Islanders, and if you know the Islanders then you know the story wouldn't end there.
The Wild tied it just a minute and a half after Okposo's would-be winner.
But wait, this is Kyle Okposo, Olympic hopeful: He scored a second go-ahead goal less than 30 seconds after that one, so the Isles again led by a goal, 5-4.
Then they took a penalty. Naturally.
The holding call on Calvin de Haan was harsh but not exactly unfair. The ensuing penalty kill required shot blocks, wide shots, prayers, diving bodies, and a few critical saves from Kevin Poulin, who had been quite the rebound machine on many instances (including Justin Fontaine's tying goal).
Things didn't get easy, breathing-wise, until John Tavares drew a penalty with 2:31 left in the game. That meant barring a shorthanded goal, even the Islanders could survive 30 seconds of 5-on-5 to finish out the game. They did, quite smartly, not allowing the Wild to pull Harding for a sixth attacker until very late, and not allowing any threats on goal regardless.
In a virtually lost season, those who stick around hope for the occasional wild circus game like this. Even if it taxes the heart.
- You can't overstate how important Tavares is, of course, and his return was key. But his linemates had a hell of a game too, with Okposo's two goals and one (deserved) second assist, while fellow de facto Minnesotan Thomas Vanek had two assists himself, though the second was via a neutral zone pass before Okposo blasted it from distance past Harding.
- Even in the loss, the Wild broadcast sold it as a "big" night for Niederreiter, who also had a second assist. His seventh goal of the season was reminiscent of his prospect videos that once got fans excited about him.
- Speaking of that trade's key characters, Clutterbuck's fifth goal of the season was a really nice mid-slot deflection, coming just moments after he picked up a stick that had been knocked out of his hands. It was great work by him, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome along with Hickey and Travis Hamonic keeping it in at the point.
- Poulin made 33 saves and probably kept the game close in the first period. But egad, those fat rebounds were hairy.
So anyway, that certainly ended in a completely unexpected way based on how the evening began, and what fears Isles fans
took into this take into every encounter. They hand the Wild their fifth loss in a row, a rare loss on home ice, and ... the Isles have crossed the 30-point threshold! Baby steps. Many, gut-wrenching steps.
Tweet of Note
USA Hockey will announce its Olympic team during the Winter Classic, and you get the feeling people fear Okposo won't get a bubble spot despite having a helluva 2013:
One #Isles player to me, about Okposo: "If he's not on the (U.S.) Olympic team, it's a complete joke."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) December 30, 2013