The hill is quite steep to reach playoff land. There are a lot of teams that have to be flipped in their rear view mirror. The path is difficult indeed.
Just don’t tell the Islander players that.
The Isles played one of their strongest games of the year. Piggybacking the prior afternoon’s effort in Boston, Kyle Okposo’s goal in the second period was the only puck to cross the line as the Islanders secured a 1-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The victory has closed the gap to 5 points from the 8th place Winnipeg Jets.
Anders Nilsson, making his second start of the season, showed a great deal more composure in the net. He stopped 24 shots from the Devils, and was especially impressive when the visitors tried to bombard the net. Nilsson stood his ground, and forced play stoppages, despite three or four Devil players around him.
The Islander crew in front of him were willing to help at any chance. The home team blocked 27 shots, and clearly attempted to clear the garbage in front of the net. Despite the bodies, Nilsson was at the right place at the right time.
“I don’t think he was ever out of position once,” Kyle Okposo said to the media after the game. “When you practice with a guy like that and struggle to score in practice, you know that he has some talent. Tonight he showed it.”
Okposo notched his 15th of the season, as he snapped a shot past the pads of Martin Brodeur. Casey Cizikas, assisted on the play, scoring his third NHL point in five games. He is enjoying his stint here with the big club, and the guys are showing him the NHL love.
They (Okposo and Nino Niederreiter) are both great players, and they are both making be better out there, and it is a great plus for me”, said Cizikas after the game. “So it is definitely a plus for me, and it only improves my game.”
To me, the hidden star of the game was Steve Staios. Despite playing only 14 minutes, the 38 year-old veteran had a fantastic game. He was outstanding in cleaning up the lanes in front of Nilsson and was able to get pucks out of harm’s way.
But the top star of the night was Nilsson. After a disappointing first NHL start in Sidney Crosby’s debut game, for which he notted four points. The AHL goalie of the month for February, kept his cool, and gave no chances for the Devils to get back to the game.
“I thank all the guys. They blocked a lot of shots and when a shot got through, it was from the boards. They made it really easy for me to play out there today”, said Nilsson
Nilsson stayed calm and cool with the Devil onslaught in the third period, and like coach Jack Capuano would say, he kept the team in the game.
The Islanders have a few days of practice and rest before their second game of the Devil trilogy on Thursday at the Rock. Saturday will be the third episode, back in Uniondale. The Devils, however, have a game with the Rangers on Tuesday, so they do not have the same kind of setup that New York does.
“It’s obviously tough to beat teams twice in a row, let alone three times in a row,” Okposo said after the game. “We are going to have to be prepared for the next 120 minutes.”
And an interesting 120 minutes, it will be.
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