BOSTON, MA – The New York Islanders pulled off what was recently considered improbable, if not impossible: beating the Boston Bruins in regulation at TD Garden. Thursday night’s 2–1 victory for the Isles exemplified the grit and determination that characterize this team.
New York continually made life difficult for Boston, which was playing its second game in back-to-back nights and third game in a period of four days.
The Islanders never let the Bruins settle into the game, constantly pressuring their puck carriers along the boards and repeatedly sending two men high on the forecheck.
The key to the game for the Isles was weathering the storm, since the Bruins always have a few flurries of sustained pressure and physical play in them. By taking Boston’s best punch and staying on their feet, the Isles were eventually able to outwork the Bruins and come away with their biggest win of the season.
This team is for real, as I’m sure you’ll finally start to hear in the mainstream media by tomorrow. (And if Francesca or Boomer and Carton don’t make mention of the fact that the Isles are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, they might have a mutiny on their hands, courtesy of the Islander fans in the tri-state area.)
The Islanders went to Boston and made a statement, announcing to the rest of the NHL that they won’t go quietly into the night, as they so often have over the past five years. Tonight, they proved that they’re here to stay.
Islanders road games make me happy for two reasons: 1) the team is 11-5-2 – now 12-5-2 after tonight – on the road, and 2) those white jerseys with the orange-and-blue trim bring back memories of the classic jerseys that the Stanley Cup-winning Isles teams of the early 1980s wore.
Full disclosure: the term “memories” is used loosely here. I’ve only seen tapes of the Cup wins since they happened before I was born.
(Which reminds me: how did people watch hockey before the advent of flat screen TVs and HD programming? Watching those tapes of the Isles winning the Cup is like watching the Zapruder footage, but with more mustaches. But I’m getting off topic…)
As for tonight: Josh Bailey had a decent game. And by “decent,” I mean “fantastic.” I don’t want there to be any confusion about this.
The Isles winger notched his eighth and ninth goals of the season, one in the first period on a rising slap shot and one in the second period on a somewhat fluky wrister.
No matter how the goals came, I’m sure Bailey will take them.
His first of the game staked the Isles to a 1-0 lead at 19:39. Defenseman Mark Streit led a breakout from the Islanders zone, eventually dropping a pass to Bailey just inside the Bruins blue line.
Bailey wasted no time, rifling a one-timer that beat Boston goalie Tuukka Rask high to the glove side.
As was to be expected, the Bruins wouldn’t take kindly to having been scored upon so late in the opening period. At 3:41 of the second frame, they made the Islanders pay.
As the Islanders scrambled to track the puck, the Bruins worked it across the face of goal to Tyler Seguin, who roofed a shot over Evgeni Nabokov’s right shoulder. Seriously, that puck couldn’t have been placed any better.
I almost expected Nabby to slide post-to-post and make the save. (Seriously, he’s been that good lately.)
Despite giving up the quick goal to start the period, the Islanders didn’t get away from their game plan of grinding the Bruins down. After another 10 minutes of end-to-end play by both teams, Bailey again found the back of the net.
Well, almost. To adhere to some semblance of journalistic integrity, I’m obligated to tell you that Bailey’s wrist shot that snuck by Rask at 13:12 didn’t actually touch the net.
Rask couldn’t pinch his elbow to his side fast enough on the shot from Bailey, and the puck skittered through the small opening, bounced off of Rask’s right leg, and took a slight right turn before crossing the goal line by a few inches.
I swear, time almost stopped – as I’m sure it did for all of us – as I was watching that puck slowly trickle into the net. There are no seconds as slow as the ones in which you’re standing in front of your TV, begging the puck to find its way into the net on a shot like that.
Just like that, the Isles went up 2-1. And as it turned out, Bailey’s two goals were all the Islanders would need to get the victory.
Isles head coach Jack Capuano has been under fire in recent years, but it looks like he’s coming into his own, a rise that’s coincided with his team’s. Not only did he tie Terry Simpson for second on the all-time Islanders coaching wins list (81), but he actually called a smart time out at a critical juncture in tonight’s game!
(I kid, I kid. I really loved the time out call; a heady play by a coach who knows his players and knew the at-hand game situation.)
In the minutes following Bailey’s second goal, the Bruins upped their intensity and put a ton of pressure on the Islanders. After a brutal shift in their own zone and an icing call against them, Cappy used his time out to allow his players to rest as well as slow the momentum that the Bruins had been building.
The Isles would use the extra rest to their advantage and go on to stem the Boston tide. They escaped the second period without giving up a game-tying goal like they might have earlier this season.
I’ll be honest, I stopped taking notes on this game at the 15-minute mark of the third period because I was too nervous to type. What I remember from that period involves a lot of Bruins pressure, me pacing back and forth in front of my TV, and possibly a ritualistic animal sacrifice to ensure that the Isles would protect a late lead.
(A note to PETA: I’m kidding about the animal sacrifice. But seriously.)
I’m still a little shell-shocked after the win. Although I expected a strong Isles showing against the Bruins tonight, going into TD Garden and getting a regulation win was still surprising, even with how well the team’s been playing lately.
We were able to stand up to a bigger, more physical team and get a win in their house. The fact that the Bruins are among the league’s best teams makes the victory all the more impressive.
What We Learned
Josh Bailey is coming into his own, plain and simple. When the Isles selected him ninth overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, expectations were high. After all, to merit a team’s first pick, the kid’s play had to be high quality.
But since 2008, Islanders fans have only seen flashes of brilliance from Bailey: he’s been moved from centerman to winger; he’s seen his playing time fluctuate; he’s been the subject of trade talk more often than I’m sure he’d like to admit.
But after a game like tonight’s, he’s shown that his confidence level is rising to match his talent.
Side note: I googled “Josh Bailey trade talk” after the game and the site didn’t recognize the search term. THAT’S how good he’s been lately. (Okay I’m kidding, but you get my point.)
The Bailey—Nielsen—Okposo line has been on fire lately, basically willing the team to wins by virtue of hustle and smart passing. But Bailey in particular has been phenomenal; with four goals in his last six games, he’s proving that he can really shoot the puck.
Remember when secondary scoring was a major issue for the Isles? Yeah, neither do I.
Oh, we also learned that Evgeni Nabokov is a stud in goal. I said it.
Okay, maybe that’s not technically something we learned after TONIGHT’S game. It’s more like we kind of knew it all along, but now we can say it out loud and it doesn’t sound funny to other people.
One final lesson from tonight: we learned that this team can win close games. What’s more, they can win them on the road. Against elite teams.
Let’s keep it simple: go Isles.
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