A surprisingly physical, tight and scoring chance-heavy contest saw the New York Islanders beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 in overtime at the corporately veneered venue formerly known simply as the Saddledome. Josh Bailey provided the difference on a very polished in-tight conversion off a pass from John Tavares with just over 17 seconds left in the 3-on-3 extra period.
The win helps the Islanders keep pace in the non-Washington section of the Metropolitan Division, three points behind but with two games in hand on the Smurfs, who won in St. Louis thanks to "Hank being Hank." It also gives them a five-point cushion above the Penguins, who hold fourth place in the Metro after the same number of games. And it means a perfect 3-0 start to this seven-game road trip, which is actually a five-game trip bookended by visits to their metro Metro rivals in Newark and Manhattan.
After the Islanders' fourth line opened scoring early in each of the first two games of this road trip, tonight they conceded that honor to the first line of the Flames, who enjoyed a 1-0 lead for 45 minutes after Jiri Hudler finished a pretty passing play from Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau at 4:16 of the first.
That play, coming off a failed lethargic breakout that Mark Giordano pinched off at the blueline, might have portended bad things for the Islanders' night. But the game actually proceeded quite evenly, and hectically as both teams traded big hits, fights and scoring chances that required very good saves from Jaroslav Halak and Joni Ortio.
Lance Bouma fought Casey Cizikas after the latter checked Matt Stajan hard but legally to reclaim the puck. Brandon Bollig fought Matt Martin, twice, after the latter checked Giordano harder and also legally.
Tempers rose but things never really got stupid as those fights seemed to actually serve the proverbial but seldom realized purpose of venting out steam without allowing the lid to blow off.
Just as things were starting to feel "not their night," hometowner Thomas Hickey tied the score in front of friends and family midway through the third period. He took advantage of a nice pass to the slot by Martin after he retrieved on the forecheck to send it toward the front of the net.
Once equalized, the Islanders didn't merely hold on for the point. Among the close calls: Tavares set up Ryan Strome with a great doorstep chance that he couldn't corral toward goal. (That's a euphemism for "he inexplicably sent it so wide not even the goalie would stop it.") Shortly after, Martin inexplicably fired wide into the lumber yard on a two-on-one in the dying minutes after his line was stuck against the Flames' first line following an icing. (Yes, the fourth line was out there to commit an icing in crunch time.)
But no regulation winner was in the cards, so one goal each through a 31-30 shots-on-goal total after 60 minutes brought the NHL's step-by-step escalation of game-deciding maneuvers because The People Demand A Winner, damn it. Overtime's now familiar exchange of cagey board and blueline play plus the occasional near-odd-man approach to goal by exhausted players followed. Giordano came closest to winning it for the Flames with a left wing shot off the far post, but Halak would tell you he had the angle covered.
Under a minute before his winner, Bailey was inches from a breakaway but couldn't corral an outlet bank off the boards before stepping over the Flames blueline.
His OT winner came through one of those great reaction plays by Tavares: Pursued on the right wing boards by "Impostor Johnny Hockey" Gaudreau, the Isles captain whiffed on his pass attempt to Travis Hamonic, turned sharply to recover the loose puck and lose Gaudreau, then found Bailey, who beautifully stepped back to the far side of the crease to redirect the puck home upstairs from an angle that did not offer him much leverage.
Whatever you think of or regularly rant about Bailey, that was a damn fine winner and chances are you couldn't have done it. Halak, too, again quietly had a good game, but don't tell the various GOALIE CONTROVERSY!!1 purveyors in national and local media.
The Johnny hockey twirl, however, that I think you could do, even if only by accident:
i love the little twirl Tavares does to celebrate the Bailey OT goal pic.twitter.com/fEPEl9T6cE— Stephanie (@myregularface) February 26, 2016
Coen brothers? I'll absolutely allow it.
Sunday night in Edmonton, the road trip and the Hamonic Watch Fever continues.