After conceding a late go-ahead goal, the New York Islanders looked like they'd come up completely empty in Winnipeg. Instead Anders Lee's deflection of Nick Leddy's blast* with the goalie pulled in the final minute of regulation tied the game, and Kyle Okposo's overtime winner gave them both points and a key ROW in the standings, to build to 5-1 on a trip marked by poor first periods and often baffling victories.
*The goal was originally credited to Leddy, so pardon any headline confusion.
Okposo's goal made it a 4-3 final over the Jets, and came in the weirdest way: In 3-on-3 OT play, Okposo broke up a two-on-one in the Isles zone, then started the counterattack breakout, and slammed home the rebound after Frans Nielsen's shot deflected up and hit fellow Dane Nikolaj Ehlers in the face, bloodying him and felling him.
Okposo and Nielsen immediately interrupted their celebration to wave trainers over to tend to Ehlers. From officiating to bounces to a four-goal third-period explosion, it was that kind of night.
First Period: This Again?
The much anticipated (well, "much" around these die-hard parts) new lines lasted all of 10 seconds before being temporarily juggled. Just after the opening faceoff, Brock Nelson took a hard Dustin Byfuglien dump-in off the leg just below the knee and hobbled to the bench. That sent Josh Bailey on in his place, and we had a couple of rotations without the combos the Isles intended to start off with.
Then Shane Prince, playing on the line he was intended to opposite Anders Lee's wing, took a penalty for too aggressively hook-jabbing in pursuit of Tyler Myers. Two minutes in the box for him, and another jumbled sequence of forward personnel after his sin was absolved by the penalty kill.
With the original combos back after the first TV timeout, the trio of Tavares, Nelson and Strome very nearly created a goal. But when Travis Hamonic pinched in hard to somehow fail to convert a wide-open net from a Tavares rebound, that left the Jets free to go two-on-one the other way. Thomas Greiss came up big to end that threat.
After another good Greiss save, Ryan Pulock almost created his first NHL point when he skated wide down the right wing to feed Shane Prince from behind the net.
The Islanders' second penalty kill was victimized, however, as Mark Scheifele opened scoring after a series of fortuitous bounces with Johnny Boychuk in the box. That sent the game to intermission with Winnipeg up 1-0 after outshooting the Isles 15-6.
Second Period: Pancakes
The Isles had an early power play in the second and failed to convert, but they got the equalizer a couple of minutes later on a thank-you-very-much shot by Calvin de Haan. Hamonic had pinched down the right wing to make a couple of attempts at passing in front. Those tries blocked, he shoveled a backhand out to the high slot, where de Haan had time to unleash a shot through a Chris Thorburn screen that was enough to help it elude Michael Hutchinson.
Then the teams took turns exchanging unsuccessful power plays based on soft to outright dubious calls. Ryan Strome went to the box after Dustin Byfuglien pressured him at the point and got tangled up in the neutral zone. The play required a good save from Greiss and a diving goal-saver by Boychuk.
Shane Prince has some wheels, and he showed them in accelerating through the neutral zone and drawing a holding penalty on Blake Wheeler. The Islanders power play was pretty bad most of the night, though. On a few occasions they had lengthy possession in the Jets zone but never took a a shot that did more than go wide or create no rebound.
The Isles went on their fourth penalty kill of the night when Josh Bailey...did something. Like, he kind of lifted his stick off the ice I guess, on Joel Armia. Weakest penalty call I've seen outside of rec league in a while. While killing that off, Casey Cizikas split the defense and hit the deck with no call, but when Cal Clutterbuck chopped for the rebound, Byfuglien gave him a good shot to the shoulder to earn a post-whistle roughing. Clutterbuck may have milked the call, but the contact was clear and penalty-worthy if we're calling things by the actual rulebook.
Third Period: What Is Going On?
So it was 1-1 going into the third period, and tight scoreless play marked the first eight minutes. That's when Prince used his speed to break free on the left wing from an aerial Okposo pass and score to create a 2-1 lead. In the process of shooting he took a swinging slash from Byfuglien, but no penalty because hey, he scored; doesn't matter if there was a brutal slash on the play.
But that lead lasted all of 1:25. A good Jets forecheck created an open lane for Myers to sneak down to the faceoff circle and convert an Alexander Burmistrov pass from behind the net.
Soon after, stemming from what I don't know, Clutterbuck got away with a slicing slash to Burmistrov's...back, or back of the legs? Was hard to see the location of contact on the replay but Burmistrov went down and stayed down. The refs conferred but decided they'd missed it, as it was at center ice while the Jets were looking to break out of their own zone. The Isles and Cal dodged a bullet.
As time wound down and pants got tight in the seat, it just didn't feel right for the Isles. They were creating a few half chances (but in an all too familiar situation, failed to get good shots on the net), and the Jets were getting too much play in their zone.
Finally a forecheck, a funny bounce, and a good keep in by Mathieu Perreault led to Scheifele finding soft ice in between four Islanders at the inside of the right wing faceoff circle. He absolutely whipped his shot high off the back bar behind Greiss for what looked to every Islanders fan in the universe like the sure winner with 2:03 to go.
But the Isles called a timeout, put their big guns out there, did well to stop a Jets chance at an empty net goal -- including Scheifele's bid for a hat trick -- and had a wonderful zone entry that set up Leddy's blast to tie the game at 3-3 with 28 seconds left.
Overtime: Makes Sense
OT went as described in the beginning. After seeing odd-man rushes make their way to Greiss all night, I'm not sure many would predict Okposo to be the one who broke one up, and cleanly enough to start a counterattack.
To be the one who potted the winner, after a lucky bounce off a defender's face -- and quick enough that officials couldn't have stopped play even if they thought they should have -- just added to the surrealism of this Thursday night in Manitoba, and this 5-1 road trip that could easily be 2-4.
Apropos of Nothing
- Checking in on the Jets broadcast on TSN, I notice they say "WAHNnipeg," yet "Fryans" Nielsen.
- I think there was some talk a few years ago about the Jets logo and their unis. The unis are still just okay, but the color scheme and that logo has stood up, I think. It's become a defining look, the jet can be played with in different ways (like on goalie masks) and I think it has staying power.
- You never know with logos until they have a few years to sink in...if it looks too good off the bat you can end up discovering it was too trendy. If it grows on you, though, like a good album it may have been done just right.
- That was Jack Capuano's 200th NHL regular season win, by the way.
Now it's back "home," mostly. Still a seventh game on this stint away from home ice, but Sunday evening's 5 p.m. finale is in New York at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers lost in regulation to the Penguins tonight, so the Isles pull to three points behind them (with two games in hand) and stay three points ahead of the Penguins.
Good times. Odd times, but good times.