The 5-4 victory came via shootout, Brad Boyes and John Tavares converting on nice moves after Frans Nielsen's Backhand of Judgment mercifully let Ondrej Pavelec have a feel-good glove save.
With the shootout, no ground was gained in the regulation+OT win tiebreaker for playoff seeds. But the two crucial points brought the Isles to 53 on the year, sole possession of sixth place before this evening's games, and kept the Jets another point behind.
The Jets have 49 points and are still in ninth place with just three games to go. That leaves them a point behind the Rangers, who have a game in hand.
The Isles heavily outplayed the Jets in the first, still had the better of play in the second, but let up after gaining the lead in the third. A bunch of notes and narratives follow below, but the video highlights of this crazy game could also suffice:
First Period: Physical start, but BON line responds
The Jets started off hitting every Islander they could reach -- hey, this is a big game! Hit things! Often! -- but the Islanders are not the old early-rebuild Islanders. A little physical smashmouth hockey did not intimidate them, did not unsettle them, did not induce panic or bad penalties.
And soon the Jets, as teams who are focused on hitting can tend to do, sent too many bodies after a hit, leaving Frans Nielsen wide open down the left wing to take the puck in and beat Ondrej Pavelec through the legs. 1-0 Isles.
The Jets answered back midway through the period, on a counterattack. It was actually a decent backcheck by the Isles, but Zach Bogosian followed the play ready to uncork a one-timer. Blake Wheeler served it on a tee, and Bogosian's shot beat Evgeni Nabokov far side. 1-1.
But the BON line continued to give the Jets fits, working the puck precisely on speedy rushes and cycles, and it ultimately led to another go-ahead goal on a pretty give-and-go in the corner between Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey. Bailey finished through Pavelec's legs.
Second Period: Isles push ahead, then it disappears
As the Jets tried to counter with more aggressive pinching, the Islanders looked to catch them on the counter. Thomas Hickey did so, finely placing a lead pass over the blueline to send Brad Boyes in alone. Boyes hit the outside of the post, however, his second golden opportunity missed.
Less than a minute later though, the fourth line created an insurance goal they would quickly cash in: On the forecheck, Jesse Joensuu won the puck and fed Matt Martin for his fourth goal of the year on a quick strike inside the near post.
That two-goal lead lasted only 40 seconds: The rebound of Evander Kane's point shot landed perfectly to Kyle Wellwood, who was left alone by Brian Strait and had all day to get it past Nabokov's desperation lunge. Just three minutes later, the lead was completely gone when Wellwood struck again: Bogosion lifted an air volley pass from his own zone that Wellwood received and beat Nabby high after using his body to box out Hickey.
Third Period + OT: Insanity
I can't really capture the craziness of the third period, as my memory of it was wiped by the end of regulation and the OT frame.
I do remember that halfway through the third, the Islanders got yet another lead when Colin McDonald (who'd made an awful drop pass not long before) fought through a check to retrieve his chip into the corner, and fed Michael Grabner for the tap-in all in one swoop.
The Islanders, suddenly confident holding third-period leads these days, went conservative and were outshot heavily the rest of the way. But the equalizer had a little assistance from the officials, who called Lubomir Visnovsky on the weakest of interference calls after he chose a route in front of Eric Trangradi to retrieve the dump-in. The Jets might have had cause for complaint (though their fans moaned and hollered every time a Jet was touched) after the Isles got the first four calls of the game, but this call was a curious choice, especially given the uncalled action that surrounded it.
Regardless, with just 2:08 remaining in regulation on that call, the Jets pulled the goalie to create a 6-on-4, and they cashed in immediately. They won the faceoff cleanly against Okposo, moved it around the perimeter, and found the extra man wide open after Nabokov made the initial save. Byran Little was the lucky man with the open net (though he made a nice play to stop the pass with his skate first.
OT was heart-stopping, back-and-forth action. Each team took risks. Each team had chances that should have gone in. Okposo and Visnovsky saved goals, a bouncing puck saved what would have been a tap-in for Andrew MacDonald after John Tavares led a late rush.
- The Jets were hindered by losing Olli Jokinen after only two shifts, his leg appearing to get trapped under Thomas Hickey after the two collided.
- The Islanders would've had a much easier time of it had they managed to convert one of their four powerplays through the first two periods. Boyes probably had the best chance, fanning on a puck that squirted to him on the doorstep.
- While the Isles tried a few different PP approaches, including John Tavares drifting to several stations around the perimeter, the Isles only generated five shots in eight minutes. In fact, Alexander Burmistrov had the best opportunity on a shorthanded breakaway after the most dangerous stretch of Islanders powerplay pressure.
- The top line was again held in check at even strength, which made it all the more important that the Nielsen line was flying again and the Islanders got goal contributions from the third and fourth lines.
- So Kyle Okposo is probably never going to be the ideal "power forward" archetype, but we've seen when he throws his body around it can be to good effect. He had a second-period encounter with Bogosian -- who himself was throwing his body around -- in the corner that Okposo clearly won. Bogosian was dazed and even went to the locker room for a bit. The attrition game swings on little events here and there; when Okposo is in bull-on-skates- mode, it helps.
- Speaking of which, he doesn't play much but Jesse Joensuu joined Matt Martin in bringng the flabuse today. Also fell down a lot though (as did several players ...bad ice?).
- Okposo and Bogosian would find each other again: Bogosian threw a heavy hit on Okposo, then ran Nielsen with an arm up high to Nielsen's head. Okposo and Bogosian were both raging at each other -- and looking to fight before the linesmen stepped in -- as they were escorted to the box (and ultimately, to the locker room) with under two minutes left in the second period.
- Brian Strait returned for the first time after his broken ankle. He skated 15:56 and showed signs of rusts but also signs of the steady Strait we remembered. Most importantly, his presence allowed Mark Streit to try more probing plays than alternate partners Matt Carkner or Radek Martinek allow.
- Thomas Hickey: Beaten on Wellwood's second goal. But oooh, what a beauty of a hit on Evander Kane on the right wing boards. Small but can deliver like that. Generally liked the tenacity of the Isles defensemen down the stretch.
- I don't really like Eric Trangradi (and I'm not sure why), but he had a heroic and appropriately applauded shift when he blocked four shots as the Isles were piling on pressure before getting the go-ahead goal in the third.
- Dustin Byfuglien's bull rush of Evgeni Nabokov as OT wound down was frightening and could've ended disastrously. He wasn't used in the shootout anyway, but that's a perfect example where a player in the penalty box at the end of regulation shouldn't be allowed to partake. A pretty cynical play by him, too: Get a penalty? No problem. Injure Nabokov for the shootout? Bonus. Score the winner if it goes in and there's no call? Double-bonus. Thankfully, the last two did not happen.
- The two absolute game-savers in OT: Lubomir Visnovsky with an insane one on a body save in the crease after a rebound drew Nabokov out. Then Kyle Okposo made a huge stickcheck on the backcheck after the Islanders gain allowed the Jets high man open all alone in the high slot. Okposo actually turned that one into a dangerous rush the other way, his toe-drag creating a point-blank chance for Frans Nielsen which Pavelec stopped.
Visnovsky's OT Save
"I just go down and try to play like Nabby. No problem." --Visnovsky, via Staple
"Nabby's been tremendous for us all year." ... "Lubo was in the pipes too, tonight. He made a heck of a save for us in OT." --Okposo, via Isles
That's all for Canada this year. The Islanders play in Raleigh Tuesday, then finish up with a Thursday-Friday back-to-back in Philadelphia and Buffalo to close the season.
The regular season, that is.