The New York Islanders suffered the ending to a seven-game points streak after a flat performance in Minnesota that may have reflected some road fatigue. The Islanders actually carried a 2-1 lead into the third period, though it wasn’t really deserved and they did very little to protect it. The Wild turned it around for a 3-2 lead in two-minute span, then added two empty-net goals for the 5-2 final.
Semyon Varlamov, making his first start since the conference finals after an injury kept him out for the first few weeks, was not given an easy workload in his season debut. It was because of him that the Isles were in position to win heading into the third and still in position to come back before the empty-net goals.
Though Barry Trotz has had a great record guiding his team in back-to-back scenarios, perhaps the Isles were just gassed while playing their third road game in four nights. It’s some solace that they picked up four regulation points from the previous two in Montreal and Winnipeg.
First Period: Welcome back, Varly
The Islanders could not get anything going during the first period, and Varlamov was tested early and often. Kyle Palmieri had the Isles’ best offensive chance, a rebound right at the top of the slot that a prone Kaapo Kahkonen somehow got a circus leg- stretch out to stop.
Official shots on goal were 14-10 for the Wild, but it was more lopsided than that.
Still, as the Isles often do, they absorbed pressure and then stung the opponent just when frustration was mounting. In the final minute, after Mathew Barzal moved the puck around the zone, Zdeno Chara sent a standard pointshot toward the goal. It was blocked in the slot, but Anders Lee (who may have been the blocker) pounced on the loose puck in the low slot and scored with 19 seconds to go. (A nice reward for Lee, who had lots of family at the game including his father celebrating his 60th birthday.)
The Isles would head to the first intermission with an undeserved 1-0 lead...and surely they’d build on that and play better in the second, right?
Second Period: Equalized, then Lee scores again
The second period saw a little more even play, with the teams taking turns creating some decent pressure. But the Isles were still nowhere near as tight and cohesive as they were the previous night in Winnipeg.
The Wild finally equalized at the mid-way point, aided by a Varlamov mistake — but not one of the puck-stopping variety. Varly had a few safe options as he played the puck behind the net, but his short pass eluded Scott Mayfield and allowed the Wild to mount pressure.
Varlamov made a great stop on the first attempt, a close-range shot off a pass from behind the net. But the rebound was picked up by Brandon Duhaime, who sent a shot through traffic from the top of the circle, deflecting downward off Nick Bjugstad on its way in.
But it took just two minutes for the Isles to retake the lead. Mathew Barzal — one of the few Islanders who looked in form from start to finish — used his speed to turn a simple defensive zone turnover into a two-on-one up ice. Though the defense played pass all the way, Barzal was still able to loft a perfect pass over to Anders Lee, who one-timed it home for his second goal of the game.
Third Period: Burned
The Islanders continued to play with fire in the third, failing to push the play and being outshot 16-2 when the period was mercifully over. Zach Parise, making his return to Minnesota, had one of the few Isles chances, though it was created from a purely solo hustle effort down the right wing. Otherwise Barzal continued to be the only one showing life and young legs.
For a few minutes you could talk yourself into thinking Varlamov might save the day and frustrate the Wild again, but the home team turned some good (and overdue) puck luck into two goals and a lead they would not relinquish.
At 7:17, Ryan Hartman picked up his own rebound off a Ryan Pulock shot block, which had Varlamov just off his line to face the initial shot. Varlamov still got over to cover most of the net, but Hartman placed it perfectly upstairs to tie the game at 2-2.
At 9:18 Duhaime left his mark again, on the rush, letting go a shot from distance that seemed to catch some of Pulock’s stick to ramp in off Varlamov’s shoulder. That might’ve been the only one Varlamov should have had of his three conceded, but he was very very sharp all night.
That made it 3-2, and just a minute later Brock Nelson took a crosschecking penalty to make things even rougher for the Isles. The Wild held on to the puck for a pretty lengthy stretch of 6-on-4 before Adam Peelch finally touched the puck to end the delayed penalty.
The Wild were dominant on the power play proper, forcing an insane series of saves from Varlamov (and one Pulock-esque empty-net stop by Scott Mayfield) as the puck caromed around from rebound to rebound. Somehow the Isles escaped, with seven minutes left to try to salvage a point or two.
They showed a little bit more life, but found no paydirt. With over two minutes remaining, Barry Trotz pulled Varlamov for a sixth attacker. The Isles worked the puck around the perimeter but could not get it toward the interior. Jonas Brodin finished things by retrieving a loose puck in the Wild zone and launching it three zones into the empty net.
The Isles pulled Varlamov again with 1:20 left and trailing two. After a missed pass for icing was waived off, Matthew Dumba lofted it from behind his own net for another long-range, accurate empty-net goal at 19:11.
Get home, get rested, get the Devils.
Just three more games to go on this 13-game road saga to open the season, but there are three three-day breaks before that home opener on Nov. 20. It’s New Jersey on Thursday, followed by a tough Florida back-to-back next Tuesday and Wednesday before the ribbon is cut at UBS Arena.