A tough first 20 minutes after the All-Star break was turned around in a hurry as the New York Islanders scored three second-period goals -- higher than their full per game average this season -- and added two more in the third for a comfortable 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild in Brooklyn.
The win was also Jean-Francois Berube's first win in his second-ever NHL start for the Islanders, rewarding the team for giving him a surprise start after a 4-0 conditioning stint in Bridgeport during the NHL's mid-season break.
Berube wasn't exactly outstanding -- at least one and possibly two goals he'd want back -- but he was busy and at times superb in making 40 saves, particularly while keeping things close during a 20-shot first period.
Recognizing his milestone, the players mobbed the rookie goalie during the center-ice post-game salute to fans.
Bombs Away, But Berube Blocks (Most)
The Islanders nicely killed off two two-minute power plays in the first period but were fortunate that was all. The early too many men call was a no-brainer, but Marek Zidlicky's interference penalty could have been more serious. He probably didn't see Jason Zucker until the last moment, but his reaction was to raise his elbow up, clocking Zucker in the face and arguably deserving at least a double minor if not more.
All that power play time helped the Wild have the better of the period's 20-12 shot advantage, putting Berube to work right away. Ironically, he played well throughout but the lone shot that got past him in the first was one of the easiest. Charlie Coyle eluded Scott Mayfield on the boards at the blueline to get good speed from the outside, but Mayfield still angled him enough -- and Nick Leddy covered the open man -- to reduce the angle enough. Alas, Coyle's backhand shovel squeaked through Berube's five-hole to make it 1-0 at 14:34.
The Isles bounced back in a wild second period, outshooting Minnesota 15-8 and outscoring them 3-1. Mikhail Grabovski tied it at 3:20 with a one-timer on a feed from John Tavares, and Anders Lee gave them the lead less than two minutes later after some great work in the corner followed by his deflection of Travis Hamonic's shot.
That was all until late in the period when Jason Pominville tied it at 2-2 on his own rebound, with Berube probably regretting his positioning on the play. But Brock Nelson did what he's been doing all season, carving out access to the slot and then whipping a wrister toward goal. That came on a nice counterattack led by Calvin de Haan after the Wild got caught pushing deep in the Isles zone. (And in a familiar story, Thomas Vanek nominated himself as the villain on the goal.) Nelson's 20th goal of the season ties his career high, with 34 games yet to play.
That sent the Isles into the second intermission with the one-goal lead they already thought they'd carry until Pominville's brief interruption.
Skating Away with It
The third penalty of the game and first since the opening period was called early in the third, giving the Islanders a golden opportunity to extend their lead after Zach Parise crosschecked Frans Nielsen.But the first 70 seconds of the power play was awful, with lost faceoffs and even an Islanders offside.
That's when Frans Nielsen took things into his own hands and broke character with a bomb.
Lee was in front of the net for the screen, and the Wild rather desperately challenged for goalie interference, a sort of "we need a timeout anyway, let's see if the refs screw up" move.
Two minutes later it looked like it would be a comfortable cruise to the finish. Mikhail Grabovski did great to keep the puck in as he arced just inside the blueline and then pressed the "when in doubt, feed Tavares" button. His backhand reverse to Tavares left the Isles captain with enough space to snap a quick shot from distance that Devan Dubnyk probably should have had.
That goal made it 5-2 at the 4:52 mark of the third period and chased Dubnyk from the game.
But the Isles let the Wild get some life back when old disrespected flower Nino Niederreiter knocked a rebound past Berube at 10:04.
A puzzling night from the officials then got worse. John Tavares was slashed -- his stick snapping in two -- on a two-on-one with no call, and a little later Anders Lee was sent off for "slashing" Jared Spurgeon after the two of them hacked each other equally in a battle for the loose puck in front of Darcy Kuemper, the Wild replacement goalie.
The Isles killed that one off though, including the final third during which the Wild had Kuemper pulled for a sixth attacker. With a two-goal lead they had comfortable clears and several chances at an empty-netter, but it ended without that final cherry on top.
Vanek: Cant talk about other guys what they feel like, but I know I can be a lot better and I got to start with myself.— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) February 3, 2016
They Said It
Some additional quotes via Islanders PR:
Jack Capuano on 20-goal scorer Nelson:
"Anybody that works at this game, you want to see them have success. He comes to the rink everyday, he wants to get bette. That's what you ask of your guys. The harder you work the luckier you get."
John Tavares on Berube:
"He was great all night. It was great to see him get his first one. He had the injury and worked really hard to get back. He's been a great guy and a really underrated addition for us with the way he's worked in practice."
Mike Yeo on his stinking team:
"Every time you lose it's concerning, and the losses keep piling up. What's concerning is that we're finding different ways to lose hockey games. Every game has been something different. There's a number of plays that happen during the course of a hockey game that add up to the difference. The little winning plays, we're not making them right now."
The Fun Side
Say what you will about the Isles choosing now to get Berube another start (the Isles' third-stringer, who the team apparently likes quite a bit, has been most active thanks to the conditioning stint, but spent a long time on the shelf with injury before that). But the result is cool for a guy who spent many seasons in the L.A. system.
Berube said Hickey got the puck for him and he'll give it to his parents. Made 40 saves in first NHL win #Isles— David Satriano (@davidsatriano) February 3, 2016
J.F. Berube had the game-puck sitting in his locker, which Hickey snagged from the ice. He told me he's going to give it to his Mom #Isles— Dan Savarino (@DanSavarino) February 3, 2016
Hamonic on Berube: "There were a couple times on the bench we were like, 'Oh, crap, this one's going in.' And he made the saves."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 3, 2016
Berube said his mother, grandmother and uncle made it down from MTL to see his first NHL win.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 3, 2016
Play-by-Play Quote of the Night
Howie: "I almost said Minnesota North Stars."
Butch [who has his own "Butchisms" vocabulary during live broadcasts]: "I wish you would've!"
Howie: "I know you do."
So the Isles cashed in one of their games in hand and thanks to a Rangers regulation loss to the Devils, it inches them upward in an ever-crowded middle of the Metropolitan Division. Their next stop is Thursday in Washington, where the Capitals are running away with the division lead so much that Vegas even stopped taking bets on the Metro title.