Enjoying a late-season recall and a surprise start, Christopher Gibson was two minutes shy of a shutout in his fourth NHL start at age 25.
But hockey is cruel. His bid wasn’t undone by the many shots he calmly steered aside to the corners throughout the night, but rather by a tough-luck deflection from behind the net that went in off the back of his mask.
That goal robbed the Islanders of a 1-0 regulation win, and after surviving overtime it resulted in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers. With rivals in the Eastern playoff race winning earlier in the evening, it further dented the Isles’ remote chances and extended their winless streak to eight games.
Once again, despite a solid defensive effort relative to their December-to-February struggles, the Islanders came up short with time running out on the season.
[Game Sum | Event Sum | Corsica | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]
It was a big though not necessarily revelatory night for Gibson, who made 35 saves. We’ve seen this kind of thing from a green goalie before — hockey has random variance and bounces both ways — and should not read anything into it beyond that it could have been a really cool story. Alas.
No surprise, Connor McDavid was a central figure, with nine shots on Gibson. The rookie goalie stopped all but one of them (including a penalty shot), the fluke equalizer, but also conceded the winning shootout tally to the Oilers captain.
Things were scoreless through two periods, though the Oilers pressed and tested Gibson more in the middle period.
The Islanders got the first goal of the game early in the third and — in a surprise — continued to threaten the Oilers goal. Gibson was solid turning shots away and the Isles were calm in mitigating waves of Oilers pressure as they double-shifted some of their top forwards.
But Thomas Hickey’s goal did not hold up, Gibson’s shutout bid did not stand, and the Isles suffered another deflating blow on a road trip and season that is fading away.
Why, Cal, Why?
In the first period, Cal Clutterbuck administered a drive-by crosscheck to Iiro Pakarinen as the Oiler was trying to enter the bench for a line change. Pakarinen left the game.
The moronic play that led to Clutterbuck meeting one of the toughest guys in the league. pic.twitter.com/7kOAbhgdgz— Thee Nation Dan - In shorts #Sacrificefor500 (@TheNationDan) March 9, 2018
Jujhar Khaira soon administered the frontier justice to Clutterbuck that frankly appeared completely warranted.
Hickey hit, hickey score
In the second period, Hickey took out twice-his-size Milan Lucic with a beautiful check inside the blueline, which is how one attains rewards in heaven:
Hickey!! #notedgoon #isles pic.twitter.com/1tRBxRbE6t— YeSUV (@IslesWhiteSUV) March 9, 2018
Then in the third, Hickey pulled of this nifty move to make it 1-0:
Hits on the ice and on the scoreboard.— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 9, 2018
Hicks has the #Isles up 1-0! pic.twitter.com/0nZ8LWq3DN
The Isles faced, and killed, a penalty off an...interesting too many men call.
Oilers have 9 skaters on the ice but nevermind because the #Isles have 7, give them the penalty— Chris McNally (@thechrismcnally) March 9, 2018
Don’t think I’ve ever seen a too much man call on a team for 6, when the other team had 8.— Not That I Particularly Care (@KeithLHHockey) March 9, 2018
Maybe the kill, with no shots, wasn’t so impressive though.
Oilers special teams rank 31st and 31st, by the way. That seems bad.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) March 9, 2018
Again, the Isles played the third well, not turtling with the lead even as things inched closer to the end of regulation. The only major threats were mostly McDavid-led pushes, which...that happens at any time of the game, no matter the game score.
First EDM SOG of the 3rd is Larsson's soft 55-footer at 9:55.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) March 9, 2018
So the heartbreaker came from the superstar. McDavid drove through the left corner and attempted to pass. It ramped off Brandon Davidson’s stick and up, deflecting off the back of Gibson’s mask and in.
The guy who’s waited a long time for another NHL shot came that close to an NHL shutout.
Still, what a game for him. It will be noted for losing the shutout to McDavid (on a fluke, but they won’t remember that part), but he also faced McDavid in an overtime penalty shot after Barzal lost the puck to McDavid in the high slot and hooked him on the ensuing breakaway.
McDavid probably had Gibson beat, but his shot went off the post.
Jordan Eberle, making his return to Edmonton, notched the Isles’ only shootout conversion to tie the extra-extra frame at 1-1. McDavid finished it with a slow-motion approach (lord, shootouts are stupid) capped by some mesmerizing stick-handling moves.
This is just filthy. pic.twitter.com/lHvrU7yAxb— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 9, 2018
John Tavares had the final chance to extend the shootout but did his usual: some stickwork, but an ultimately unconvincing attempt stopped by Cam Talbot.
#mood pic.twitter.com/EBasWhexrz— Dan Saraceni (@cultureoflosing) March 9, 2018
The nightmare — or the thriving tank job — continues Sunday evening in Calgary.