The injury- and trade-decimated New York Islanders did it again, picking up two points in a 2-1 win in Ottawa, taking two wins in as many nights of a traveling back-to-back, giving themselves three wins in a row and their seventh in 10 games, keeping them in a lottery no man's land as their rookies and callups carry them through the end of the season.
Their victims, the Senators, were already all but eliminated from the playoffs, but this regulation loss in Ottawa's 76th game ended a 4-0-1 run that somewhat revived their hopes, and now leaves them in 2007 Islanders-esque need-a-Dubie territory.
The Islanders heroes were unsung because unsung characters is virtually all they have left: Josh Bailey and Casey Cizikas with the goals, Anders Nilsson with just one goal conceded for his second consecutive game.
Cizikas' game-winner -- the first power play goal of his career -- came midway through the third period and just three minutes after Ottawa had finally solved Nillsson. Nilsson made it hold as he stopped 15 Ottawa third period shots.
Notes of This and That
- The game began with the most unfamiliar of sights: A goalies' duel between Nilsson, who is fighting to show he can be a pro goalie, and Craig Anderson, who has not been as good as your father's Craig Anderson. Seriously, both guys took turns making big saves (shots 14-13 for the Isles in the first period) until Anderson was beaten late on a really nifty Islanders power play passing sequence, shortly after a 5-on-3 had become a one-man advantage.
- Bailey scored for the second consecutive game, and also tried some behind-the-back move in the slot on the power play that I've never seen him try in his previous 399 NHL games. Seriously, what the hell gets into March/April Josh Bailey? And how can it be channeled to, say, October-May New Okposo style?
- Travis Hamonic continued his pinching, and set up Ryan Strome for a glorious shoulda-scored chance in the slot in the second period. Hamonic led the Isles by far in ice time, with 26:13.
- His partner Calvin de Haan didn't get an assist but was key on the go-ahead goal, feeding Ryan Strome in the corner and then continuing to the net to create pressure and chaos as Cizikas ultimately benefited from the scramble around Anderson.
- Kevin Czuczman continued his learning experience, getting caught a couple of times thinking he had NCAA time when his opponent was on NHL time. (This is a refrain for me, but it's fun to watch him learn via baptism by fire, raw skills and new lessons on display.)
- Cal Clutterbuck continued his shot-happy second-half surge, including generating two unsuccessful shorthanded breakaways.
Thus continues the Islanders' late-season rebound, both entertaining and frustrating, and somewhat familiar. Different names are appearing on the highlights and scoresheet, but that's in part because they're playing more prominent roles than they have before, roles that will mostly disappear once the normal order is restored...
Casey Cizikas: "Right now we're doing a good job, holding leads, playing smart. That we've figured it out now is disappointing in a sense...— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) April 3, 2014
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, captain John Tavares at a charity event:
"Obviously, we're not playing for a whole lot right now. We can't be fooled with the way we finish here because of the way the rest of the season went."
The Islanders are still five points behind Carolina and Nashville, so their ultimate standing seems set in stone. But it's six more games, three against Metro teams with playoff spots yet to secure (New Jersey, Washington, Columbus). So we'll see how these kids do against teams that are truly desperate.