UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 09: Michael Grabner #40 and the New York Islanders celebrate his goal at 17:42 of the second period against Steve Mason #35 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 9, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Relentless Islanders Shut Door on Flyers

UNIONDALE, N. Y.– The New York Islanders (20-16-4) snap the Philadelphia Flyers (17-19-3) 8 game winning streak against them, and perhaps, even their playoff hopes with an outstanding win this evening.

The frenetic energy and overall resolve on the Islanders side of  things proved too overwhelming for the downtrodden Flyers, especially in the third period, as New York improve to an 18-2-2 record when up by two or more goals heading into the twilight of regulation.

Add to that the Islanders’s seventh man on the ice, mainly the fans, with their brand of relentlessness, chanting “We want playoffs!” throughout the remaining 5 minutes of the third, and you have a smorgasbord of excitement at Uniondale absent these past several seasons. Not to beleaguer that aforementioned point, but it’s wonderful to exorcise that ‘spirit’ out of the building once and for all.

Moreover, no Matt Martin-Wayne Simmonds show down; in fact, for the most part, the Flyers attempted to skate against the much faster, much younger, and much more assertive Islanders squad and it cost them plenty. The game was not without its chippiness, but overall, the Islanders owned the forecheck this evening, especially the remarkable and consistent play of Frans Nielsen‘s line, who, for me, prove as talented a bunch of rag-tags as any team can hope to have at present.

Couple the aforementioned with Matt Moulson‘s return to form and John Tavares‘s line returning to some semblance of early season synchronicity and, of course, Evgeni Nabokov‘s mastery of the pipes, and the Islanders are in position to move well within the conference standings, rather than bookending it as some are expecting, and/or are hoping.

I say again, it’s best to focus on the road ahead of you  if you’re the Islanders, but difficult a task it proves to be as an Islander player and/fan not to look at the Rangers matchup on Saturday and wonder if by then this team is not well entrenched in the playoff push.

GAME RECAP

The first period bore witness to a cautious Islanders team, playing a bit of dump and chase with the Flyers who, at the onset, seemed to have a steady hold of the momentum, able to setup rather easily in the Isles’s own zone. New York would take the Flyers to task during their shift changes, which lead to some quality shots for the Isles that were either blocked by sprawling players or wide of the net; but the issues were on the transition game, as the backcheck and protection against neutral zone plays seemed to deteriorate rather quickly as time wore on.

And, thus, the Flyers would open up the scoring after the Islanders failed to convert on a rather weak offensive rush, as Claude Giroux hurled a rink-long pass to Jakub Voracek (17) that quickly became a breakaway opportunity and an inadvertent goal, coming at the 6:28 mark:

Andrew MacDonald had the grave misfortune of giving the Islanders the task of climbing uphill the rest of the period.

But the Islanders heeded the call, as a good 9 1/2 minutes later Matt Moulson made his presence known with an absolutely nifty shot that beat Steve Mason glove side, all thanks to the gritty work of John Tavares in his own zone (suffering a hit in the process) to chip a pass up to a surging Brad Boyes who turned the Flyers’s defenseman inside-out with some serious stickhandling. Moulson was severely marked on the play as well, but was able to release the shot just as the stick check was coming.

The first period would end in a draw, but the momentum rested with the Islanders.

The second opened with the Flyers owning the initial uptick in skating and puck cycling duties, as the Islanders allowed for their opponents to waltz into their own zone virtually unscathed. Nabokov proved to be impenetrable regardless of the attempts against his net, and if not for the MacDonald incident, would’ve  assuredly notched another shutout for the season. Nevertheless, shots by Mike KnubleBruno GervaisBrayden Schenn, and Erik Gustafsson (to name a few) were tamed by the Isles’s netminder. Nabokov would make 26 saves at evening’s end, each one building up his team’s confidence.

Michael Grabner, whose recent play has vastly improved since returning from an injury a few weeks ago, unknots this contest at the 17:42 mark of the period, with help from a keenly aware Colin McDonald pass into the slot area (proving to be the go-ahead notch):

Once again, Mason is beat glove side by a strong Islander snap shot, as Grabner goes onto collect his 13th of the season. And once again, the Islanders take the momentum and a much needed lead into the locker room.

The energy level went on overdrive in the third as the Islanders cut down on the Flyers’s scoring chances, and began to shorten the skating space for their opponent. The relentless forecheck aforementioned began to pique earlier this period than it did in the last two, as the Frans Nielsen‘s line began to skate with much more emphasis and loosening up the puck along the boards, but not without missing their defensive duties on the backcheck. Nabokov’s diligence paid dividends in the third, allowing the Islanders to wear down their opponent, lulling them enough to nail their coffin shut for the evening, and potentially for the season.

At 18:23 of the third, a streaking John Tavares and Matt Moulson create a 2-on-1 opportunity that helps redeem MacDonald’s accidental ‘own-goal’ as Moulson’s mark, Erik Gustafsson, pushes the puck past Mason in an attempt at covering the rebound and a potential second opportunity to score. Tavares’s initial shot is saved, but the rebound ricocheted off the pad and into a rushing Gustafsson; the Islanders forward was the last to touch the puck, and thus, earns his 24th goal of the season:

Casey Cizikas scores an empty netter 30 seconds later and the Islanders gain two more points on the Rangers (42 pts), while tying the Ottawa Senators (44 pts)  for 6th, in the process.

Ahead are two of the more formidable challenges for the Islanders’s pursuit of playoff hockey: the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. If the Islanders can keep it up, rest assured they’ll do more than ‘just’ make it.

–RD

NOTES
  • 13,888 in attendance this evening
  • Stars of the game: 1st *: Matt Moulson; 2nd*: Michael Grabner; 3rd*: Evgeni Nabokov
  • Evgeni Nabokov turned aside 26-of-27 shots for his 19th win, one shy of the league lead. Since March 24, he has stopped 146-of-158 shots (.924 save percentage), going 6-1-1 with a shutout. (Courtesy of islanders.nhl.com)
  • Washington Capitals are third in the Conference with 44 points as well. (I forewarned you all: Keep your eyes on the Caps!)

EDITOR’S NOTE

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Tags: Evgeni Nabokov Matt Moulson New York Islanders Nhl Playoffs Ottawa Senators Philadelphia Flyers Playoff Push Playoffs

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