The New York Islanders had the chance to give Jaroslav Halak a feel-good win over his former team, and the officials helped offer them an early advantage. They used that head start to build a 3-0 first-period lead, which their relentlessly ineffective penalty kill promptly squandered through the rest of the game.
The result was a back-and-forth and ultimately frustrating 6-4 loss, a gimme win for Martin Brodeur -- who relieved Jake Allen, and faced only three more shots than Allen despite playing double the time. Halak, for his part, faced 40 shots and had little help on any of them.
After apparently thinking this would be easy, the Isles were outshot 30-15 in the final two periods alone, during which the Blues converted three power play goals on five opportunities against a penalty kill that still cannot even manage to kill three out of four.
Halak hadn't conceded more than two goals in a game since the first of November. His team had also done a good job of staying out of the box during that stretch. Not so today.
First Period: This Is Gonna Be Easy!
The Isles benefited early from some early Tim Peel officiating, but after they wasted the first of three first-period power plays, you had the fear some random makeup calls would be coming. It wasn't so much that the Blues penalties were soft (though Jori Lehtera's trip was delicate enough that you sometimes see it let go), it was that they came after exchanges that could have been called either way.
Particularly when Cal Clutterbuck draws a call (he crosschecked, then hit the deck after Chris Butler's retaliatory, and penalized, slash), you figure makeups are coming.
Sure enough, the Blues got the next call -- a legit hook by Casey Cizikas on Vladimir Tarasenko in the slot -- but thanks to some good Halak saves and decent makeup coverage, the Isles survived a PK in which they repeatedly flubbed good opportunities to clear the zone.
Then the Isles pounced.
The Blues thought they were touching up for an icing call, Jake Allen having his arm up and Kevin Shattenkirk slowly going back for the touch-up. None was called, Shattenkirk rushed a backhand pass which bounced past his forward...straight to Ryan Strome, who blasted a slapshot through a Nikolay Kulemin screen and past Allen.
Strome's goal came at 18:01. Michael Grabner made it 3-0 at 19:39 when he beat Patrick Berglund to the rebound of a Matt Donovan shot. Allen should have (and thought he did) have that one in his equipment, but Grabner out battled Berglund, who is a whipping boy among Blues fans in the Marty Reasoner/Nate Thompson tradition.
And it could have been worse: Still at 1-0, Allen made an absolutely amazing glove save to prevent the puck from crossing the goal line in mid-air, right after Grabner pulled a rebound from the post with his skate and sent it toward the open net. Had that one also gone in, the rest of the game might not have been so interesting.
With the Blues reeling from the two late goals, both teams had their fourth lines out for the first period's dying seconds, when general statements of testosterone were exchanged between Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott and Maxim Lapierre of the Blues, and Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck of the Isles.
For a moment it looked like the Isles, who have been so good at 5-on-5 this season but so poor on special teams, might finally ride special teams to victory. Nope. LOL, nope.
Second Period: The Response
Martin Brodeur started the second period in place of Allen, but he wouldn't face any work for quite a while. Islanders fans chanted and were happy to see him, but it's hard to take advantage of a weak goalie when you don't make him face shots.
Steve Ott cashed that Clutterbuck card in early in the second, dropping to the ice after a retaliatory slash from Nick Leddy. Ott was immediately okay, and the Blues converted on the power play with Paul Stastny's muffed shot just squeaking past Halak's outstretched right leg.
Before the Isles could register a shot in the second period, the aforementioned whipping boy Berglund made it 3-2 at 4:28 of the second with a nifty downward deflection of a rising shot that left Halak still standing like Curtis Joseph in the 1996 World Cup.
The Blues continued to mount pressure, the Isles continued to have trouble generating their own, and then the dreaded penalty kill struck again. Anders Lee was lucky not to get an elbowing call when he pinched Carl Gunnarsson on a keep-in along the boards. Lee looked to be simply bracing for his own collision with the boards as he tried to seal the puck, but Gunnarsson beat him there and suffered a blow to the jaw in the process. Gunnarsson did not return.
That wasn't called, but Calvin de Haan was for tying up Joakim Lindstrom, and the Blues filled another power play with an onslaught of shots at Halak. The tying goal finally got through 1:51 into that extra-man situation via a Kevin Shattenkirk blast from the point with David Backes screening.
Second-period shots got to 14-2 for the Blues before the Isles finally retrieved a little bit of zone time.
And then, the Isles' half-way competent special team went to work. With things already at 4-on-4 thanks to testosterone-demonstrations by Reaves and Lee, Paul Stastny went to the box on another sketchy call, taking the blame for Matt Donovan losing an edge behind the goal line.
At 4-on-3, with speedsters and painters like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen on the ice, Nielsen led a rush up ice which ended in a Tavares go-ahead goal in the final minute of the second period.
The Stastny call was the last one the Isles would get, as the officials more than made up for it in absentia during the third.
Third Period: The Reckoning
Would the third period be decided by 5-on-5 play? No. In his fifth NHL game, Griffin Reinhart took the first penalty, a high stick against Reaves as they muscled for the puck in the corner.
While the Isles killed that power play -- and without too much drama for once -- they did not survive the next one, a Ryan Strome hook on Jaden Schwartz. This time it didn't take long. The Blues again worked traffic in front of Halak, and TJ Oshie's shot went through Brian Strait, an unimpeded Backes screen, and the pads of Halak, who was still trying to peer around the screen.
The Islanders' penalty kill approach is really something else.
The Isles nearly got the go-ahead goal when Kyle Okposo slapped at the puck repeatedly at Brodeur's left post. It's not clear whether the puck ever went in, but it is clear that the reason the refs called it off was out of persistent desire to protect Brodeur. (More on that in the quotes below.) In this instance, they claimed Okposo's stick pushed Brodeur's glove across the line.
Yes, Okposo's stick blade pushed Brodeur's glove -- but that was after both the blade and glove were already past the line. If that puck crossed the line (video was inconclusive), it by rights should have been a goal. But again, no replay showed the puck across the line, so it's moot. A quick NHL review let the call stand.
Aaand then the crushing blow came. Lindstrom, who had three asists, made a fantastic spin away from Nielsen on the left wing boards, then found Stastny coming out from behind the net on the other side for a one-timer that he buried on the doorstep. 5-4 for the Blues with just over six minutes left.
He didn't, but it must've been tempting for Stastny to skate by the refs and tell them to shove it after his goal.
With the Isles scrambling but generating little for an equalizer, they were caught on a mixed line change for the final goal against. Anders Lee and Calvin de Haan combined to neither disrupt the passer Lehtera nor cover Vladimir Tarasenko, who was left all alone for another one-timer that sealed the final score of 6-4.
Quotes of the Afternoon
"The shoe has turned."
"You gonna take a whack at Marty, you're gonna pay the taxes."
>>The refs, to Anders Lee, continuing the situational officiating that made for a bizarre afternoon.
Update: Taxes line, now with video: