By the end of the night, with 12 goals on the board, Anders Lee's first of the season after being recalled earlier this week was an afterthought. The New York Islanders and Dallas Stars proceeded through a zany night of lead changes and special teams that justified both clubs' reputations as offensive teams.
Islanders fans couldn't breathe until the final second of the game, which is when Frans Nielsen zipped a shot into the empty net to complete his hat trick and make it 7-5.
Not 12 seconds before that -- and after a curious amount of time was restored on the clock after a bad Brock Nelson icing -- Jame Benn very nearly tied the game yet again on a redirection in the slot.
Instead, relief, exultation, and a party atmosphere at the Coliseum as the Isles remain atop the Metropolitan Division with a 6-2 record.
The Run of Show: Momentum is a State of Mind
This game had enough proverbial "momentum shifts" to change the laws of physics. Nikolay Kulemin's shorty to regain the lead at the end of the first felt like good karma for a hard worker after a bizarre penalty call (more on that later). Brock Nelson's insurance goal (ha, "insurance") early in the next period created some breathing room you never really believed was there.
Sure enough, the Stars scored the next three goals and it felt like Toronto all over again. Then Lubomir Visnovsky come back the other way and slaps a puck-on-its-side past Anders Lindback to make it 4-4 before the second intermission. Matt Martin got called for another bizarre penalty to put the Stars on the power play to open the third.
Then after the teams somehow went 10 minutes without a goal, Jamie Benn made the entire Islanders six-some look silly, drawing Chad Johnson out of the net and feeding Tyler Seguin, who hit the post, then Kulemin and Frans Nielsen went 2-on-1 the other way to give the Isles yet another lead.
Finally, some breathing room after Nielsen scored another, this time on a feed from Mikhail Grabovski? No. As the fantastic Stars color commentator Daryl Reaugh said it: "This has gone on for decades...you never trust the glass here [at Nassau Coliseum]." A crazy bounce off the glass and suddenly Shawn Horcoff was alone in front of the Isles net to make it 6-5.
The Officiating: What, Would You Say, You Do here?
I don't want to talk about the officiating, but my goodness how can you not wonder about NHL officiating after the stark contrast of the last two Islanders games? Thursday in Boston, breaking people was cool. Tonight, checking people (Matt Martin) and battling for position (Patrick Eaves, Thomas Hickey) was frowned upon.
Likewise, I don't want to fault the officials for calling a tight game (though a few instances were beyond "tight" and well into "WTF?"). I'm fine with tight games. I like when rules are enforced. Consistently. As a player, I'd go nuts if two consecutive games were called as differently as the last two Islanders games -- and I only play beer league with refs who have day jobs. This is the NHL, a professional, multi-billion-dollar league, yet the last two nights for the Isles have seen officiating from different planets.
In Accordance with the Prophecies
What happens when John Tavares has a mostly quiet (and pointless) game, with his top-line counterparts on the Stars doing most of the awe-inspiring creating? Frans Nielsen picks up the slack, with two excellent sniper shots made possible by quick passing from Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin.
Put in a lot of tough situations against Jason Spezza and company, Nielsen's line survived and ultimately came out on top.
By the way, before someone says otherwise (well, probably too late!), Cory Conacher had a pretty active game on the top line. Tavares' pointless night was not on Conacher, whose speed created discomfort for the Stars.
+ Nielsen's shooting accuracy, and his linemates forcing him to shoot.
- Chad Johnson's save percentage on this night. Thankfully Anders Lindback was at the other end.
+ Lubomir Visnovsky's hip check on Antoine Roussel, a thing of beauty.
- (But honestly impressive) Tyler Seguin's backchecking, which on multiple occasions eradicated would-be offensive chances for the Isles.
+ Calvin de Haan's overall smoothness. That guy.
- Brian Strait's very #6-iveness. To be fair the common scapegoat had some good plays too. But he's clearly the team's weakest defenseman and Travis Hamonic's return will make the blueline scary good.
+ Grabovsky back, and Kulemin continuing his thing. Holy cow, those two.
+ Speaking of which, the penalty kill was impressively aggressive tonight. And they faced a lot of work and a dangerous Stars arsenal.
Party Like It's 1993
And we're back! Though apparently DAL and NYI played this game 25 years ago. pic.twitter.com/LTLN5xVM1A— WAR On Ice (@war_on_ice) October 26, 2014
The Islanders will try to strengthen their record one more time at home Tuesday against the Jets, before a big Western road trip that includes all three California teams.