At the tail end of the holiday season, the New York Islanders survived their traditional twice-a-year goal festival with the Dallas Stars, defending home ice against the Western Conference leaders with a 6-5 win in Brooklyn.
Like pretty much every recent encounter between these two teams, there were multiple multi-goal leads, lead changes, quick strikes, and a game that generally played out in the exact opposite as the coaches desire when they repeat the refrain, "We sure don't want to get in a shootout with them."
Kari Lehtonen, pulled from two of his last three starts, was the victim in the Stars net. Thomas Greiss, pulled last night in the middle of the Penguins blitz after keying several Islanders victories before that, "rebounded" to get the win despite being beaten five times on 41 shots.
Against the Stars, a goalie takes what he can get. The Isles outshot Dallas 44-41. Kyle Okposo and Cal Clutterbuck paced the Isles with two goals apiece. The penalty kill came up big on several occasions where the game could have turned.
And Clutterbuck's night in particular was oh so Clutterbuck for opposition players and fans alike.
As expected, or perhaps as feared, the goals came early and often. Vernon Fiddler opened scoring six minutes into the game, Anders Lee tied it five minutes later on a power play backhand shovel, Patrick Sharp regained the lead for the Stars three minutes later, and Okposo scored from his knees with 1:26 remaining to make it 2-2 at the first intermission.
A Most Clutterbuck Sequence of Events
But the game turned early in the second period with the Stars on a power play.
With the puck on the right wing boards and Clutterbuck in a vulnerable spot, Jason Demers saw a chance to run the renowned agitator. But he was overzealous and instead erased Clutterbuck, erased the Stars power play -- and received a major and game misconduct.
The Stars were down to five defenseman and the Isles would have over three minutes of power play themselves.
The Isles moved the puck well and converted, though through a bit of good fortune. After each Islander touched the puck on a tic-tac-toe around the zone, Kyle Okposo's shot of a rebound in the slot skittered off Alex Goligoski's skate and into the net.
Demers' hit that altered the game looked brutal and foolish live -- Clutterbuck on his knees against the boards, Demers charging in to lay a licking on the big-hitting pest -- but on replay it looked like he held up at the last second to avoid slamming Clutterbuck's head.
Regardless, Clutterbuck, who left last night's game twice with injury and ultimately didn't finish the game, left the ice again.
This time, he returned and it paid dividends.
Just a couple of minutes after Mikhail Grabovski doubled the Isles lead to 4-2 late in the second period on a ice feed from Ryan Strome to the doorstep, Clutterbuck returned, peeled to the outside to keep the puck in the Stars zone, and rifled one of his patented wristers to the far high corner to make it 5-2.
But it's never over nor comfortable against these Stars, as the Isles know well from high-scoring affairs in recent seasons and as the rest of the league has learned in most meetings this season.
Dallas got one back early in the third period, via Valeri Nichushkin, after he blocked Travis Hamonic's shot at the point, carried down left wing on a two-on-one, and had his attempt bounce in off Nick Leddy's skate.
Clutterbuck added to his nuisance legend, however, as he converted a shorthanded chance after Casey Cizikas had one of his "The Shift" forechecks that eventually drew three Stars to the corner before he fed Clutterbuck alone in the low slot. That restored the three-goal lead at 6-3. So no sweat, right?
Nope. It's the Stars.
Last time #Isles scored 6 or more and Tavares didn't have a point? Oct. 25, 2014 -- 7-5 win over Dallas.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 4, 2016
On the same power play where Clutterbuck scored his shortie, Nichushkin made it 6-4 as they were still announcing the goal.
Then Jason Spezza made things really tight at Barclays Center with a good reach to make it 6-5 with 1:42 remaining. Patrick Sharp very nearly tied it on two wraparound stuff attempts at opposite posts, but Greiss stopped the forehand try to his right, and Thomas Hickey stopped the backhand try to Greiss' left. (Had the second attempt succeeded, it might've been overturned for some obvious goalie interference when Cody Eakin shoved Greiss into the net. But one never knows in the NHL.)
Anyway, the Isles survived, and Clutterbuck's second goal ended up as the game-winner, a sort of hat trick of thorns in the Stars' side. It's the second time in a week, and the second time this season, that they scored six without an empty netter. And against Dallas, they ended up needing each and every one.
The Isles, in second place in the Metro, next play Thursday at home to the East-leading Capitals. Expect more goals.