The New York Islanders gained two points in their fading playoff chase with a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, but that chase took its biggest hit yet with an injury to captain John Tavares.
Tavares went down late in the third period, to gasps in Barclays Center that rival the gasps whenever Joshua Ho-Sang gets the puck with a head of steam, and he was unable to skate off under his own power.
It looked like a hamstring injury, the kind that keeps a body out for weeks at minimum.
[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]
But, there was a game besides that, so we might as well get to those details.
While the Islanders’ handling of their three-goalie monster has rarely made sense — or when it has (injuries, performance, etc.), still took way too long for them to resolve -- it’s worth noting Jaroslav Halak’s part in it.
He entered Friday night’s game with a .905 save percentage in 1,305 minutes, really ugly numbers for an NHL goalie except when put next to Jean-Francois Berube’s alarming .889 in 527 minutes.
Against the Devils Halak continued his latest revival. He stopped the first 25 shots he faced Friday and kept the Isles in the lead even as they squandered opportunities to make the game more comfortable.
Parade of Power Plays
Against a better opponent, the Isles’ continued power play foibles would have cost them.
Tonight they scored on their first power play opportunity, an Anders Lee rebound at 5:44 of the first period, and then wasted eight consecutive opportunities over the next two-plusperiods, including two sizable five-on-threes. (They had a third five-on-three as time wound down, but we’ll concede the smart play there was to just hold the puck and not let something very Islanders happen.)
The Devils challenged Lee’s goal for goalie interference -- probably a team-morale nod to Keith Kinkaid, who complained on the play, rather than an honest view of the replay, which showed no real contact.
You wonder if that was a costly decision because the Isles’ second goal 30 minutes later was close to offside.
Joshua Ho-Sang is unconventional and sometimes his teammates know no more about what he’s going to do than his opponents do. (In the third period, Jason Chimera literally ran over Ho-Sang when Ho-Sang put on the breaks at center ice, to the ice cheetah’s surprise.) But Ho-Sang’s relentless motor and the speed that powers it makes that okay, and exciting as hell.
So it was another night of fun stuff like this, which created a good deflection opportunity for Anders Lee:
Ho-Sang is playing Horse with Peter Forsberg from 15 years ago. pic.twitter.com/uKt92Oz31Q— Eyes on Isles (@eyesonislesFS) April 1, 2017
The Ho-Sang Experience bore fruit shortly after, thanks to a wonderful snipe by Anthony Beauvillier, who looked to the blueline while deciding “I guess I’ll shoot for the postage stamp” after Ho-Sang gained the blueline within a hair of being offside.
B-E-A-U-tiful! #Isles pic.twitter.com/sQBa7OlZDf— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 1, 2017
Beauvillier’s goal was timely, because in addition to whiffing on so many power plays, the Isles were starting to play on their heels as the Devils turned it up a notch. Jaroslav Halak was preserving the lead and frequently calming things down with puck smothers.
Jason Chimera’s assist on the breakout gave him 400 regular season points for his NHL career. The primary assist was Ho-Sang’s ninth point.
That made it 2-0 with just over two minutes left in the second period. With 20 seconds left, the Devils finally got a power play when Johnny Boychuk was called for roughing Taylor Hall.
The Islanders killed that to open the third period but couldn’t kill the Devils’ next opportunity. They’d extinguished 1:40 of Thomas Hickey’s penalty before Adam Henrique scored on the second rebound at 11:23.
The Devils continued to push, Halak continued to stand strong. The Islanders were gifted an eighth power play with just under five minutes left in regulation.
This is not a drill: Tavares is Injured
They didn’t convert, but far more costly: Tavares went down behind the net after an awkward landing that appeared to strain his hamstring. He stayed down, needed to be helped off the ice, and we all closed our books on this season.
WELP great season everyone, time to pack it in for the summer pic.twitter.com/QTAGwSPkSJ— Mario Schultz-Sang (@Schultz88) April 1, 2017
In Arthur Staple’s recap for Newsday, Cal Clutterbuck was blunt as to who (or what) was the culprit, as our old friend Barclays Center ice rears its ugly head again:
Cal Clutterbuck was disgusted at the poor ice surface claiming his captain.
“You see a guy’s heel dig in like that, it doesn’t happen other places,” Clutterbuck said. “It’s something that doesn’t get addressed . . . It was a little worse (than it’s been). It had been a little better the last few games, but not tonight.”
(Dan here, pointing out that that ice didn’t keep Clutterbuck from signing on for five more seasons as an Islander)
Back to the game. The Islanders received one more power play, with two minutes to go, to help extinguish the game, and they basically held the puck rather than shoot so as to assure that.
The win brought them back to four points behind the Bruins, who host the Panthers tomorrow afternoon.
But, you know, the damage was done.
The Isles play Sunday afternoon in Buffalo. I’m doubting Tavares will be on the ice.