WINNIPEG, MANITOBA– The New York Islanders (24-16-5) claim the extra point in the shootout, after a grueling, physical, sloppy, frenetic, and all-around mad dash of a matchup.
The Winnipeg Jets (23-19-3) proved relentless along the boards and within slot areas this afternoon, pummeling away at any loose pucks in front of Evgeni Nabokov in the process, and savvy on scooping up turnovers at the Isles’s blueline. The Islanders would outshoot the Jets for the first 20+ minutes, but the Jets certainly blocked more shots and hit more bodies at the onset.
The game maintained a level of chippiness throughout, and some bad and/or missed infractions, not to mention three failed offside calls favoring the Jets, set the stage for what turned out to be a game filled with tenacity, each team waiting to pounce on the other’s mistakes.
If these teams are to meet in the post-season, do not under any circumstances think the Isles can easily wrap up that series. Although in 9th place, one point behind the New York Rangers, the Jets played with a plentiful amount of heart. Like the Islanders, the Jets demonstrated very little fear, even some nastiness to boot.
I say, these two teams (I’ll even throw in the Washington Capitals, as well) will give anyone in the East a run for their money and then some.
What was once thought of as a Conference banner for the Bruins or Penguins to win, is sincerely anyone’s at this point. And at the risk of sounding biased, I say, of all the teams in the East, you do not want to face this New York Islander club.
Although the Jets were the much more aggressive team to begin this afternoon’s contest, Frans Nielsen‘s quick goal at the 4:21 mark, helped to quell the crowd’s energy and the Jets’s tempo. Truth be told, the direct connection to Islander success these past 10 games is the courageous and gritty work of Kyle Okposo, who has emerged as a definitive and superior playmaker, the likes of which was non-existent for the entire half of this truncated season. In fact, I cannot remember too many games in which Okposo demonstrated forechecking/backchecking at such a consistent level. All those who have criticized him, even considered trading him, must eat their words to the last syllable. (Yours truly will gladly share in the feast.)
But the Jets weren’t prepared to lay down this afternoon, as they too have had a recent surge of wins; Evander Kane, Bryan Little, and captain Andrew Ladd have played some of their best hockey as of late.
The pesky Zach Bogosian would knot it up 6 1/2 minutes later and recapture the momentum, taking full advantage of a defensive lapse that allowed the Jets defenseman to set up shop inside the right slot area and fired a shot that beat Nabokov stick side.
The Islanders quickly regrouped despite losing the edge in the first, as once again Frans Nielsen‘s line continue to prove indomitable this second of the season, as Josh Bailey, who is on a tear beyond compare, nets the go ahead at the time, coming 2 1/2 minutes after Bogosian’s notch; the goal seemed to truly take the wind out of both the team and the arena, for it would be all Islanders the remaining minutes of the first and through the early portion of the second periods.
Matt Martin would score the third notch for the Isles, and what seemed to be the coffin nail for the Jets at 9:47, but as has been the case with Winnipeg, home is where their heart is, and two quick goals by Kyle Wellwood erased all of the Islanders hard work and good fortune. The Jets are one of the better 2nd period teams in the East as of late, so it was key for the Isles to either maintain a tie game going into the third (a period New York relishes in as of late–remember the days when taking a 1 goal lead into the third pretty much meant a guaranteed loss for the Isles?) which they did, and for a road game, the tie going into the locker room was the most important factor to keep New York within striking distance of a win.
Before the period ended, however, Okposo and Bogosian exchanged heated words, almost coming to blows, as the chippiness and nastiness only increased as the 2nd period drew to a close. The linesmen prohibited the fight from occurring, perhaps a bad move by them, as the tension only mounted and the expectation of a grudge match come the 3rd was almost imminent.
Okposo and Bogosian each get 2 for Roughing when all said and done, and a bit afterwards, Martin and Blake Wheeler also get 2 for Roughing, and they would have to leave the ice so as to avoid the fight everyone else watching the game wanted to happen.
Michael Grabner would untie the game at 9:13 of the final 20, as a wonderful heads-up pass by Colin McDonald, (absorbing a check at the blueline), appeared to give the Isles the shot in the arm and go-ahead goal to seal the deal and secure a much-needed two points:
The Isles would carry the lead and the momentum, for the most part, until the referee called Interference on Lubomir Visnovsky at the 17:52 mark–a call that redefines ‘being literal’ when it comes to the rules. Lubo takes the skating lane away just a tad, as the Jets player neither fell nor was severely pushed out of the way. Nevertheless, the Jets found the ‘break’ they so desperately needed, and after a successful faceoff win inside the Islanders’s zone and coach Claude Nöel pulling his goaltender to set up a risky 6-on-4 beforehand, Bryan Little ties it up one last time in dramatic fashion:
The Jets and Isles played an equally physical and fast-paced OT period, but it the decision would rest in the Skills Competition, and John Tavares would bring the Isles home and that much closer to a playoff spot:
- Brian Strait made his return debut, playing in only his 15th game this season, after having suffered a terrible ankle break back in February–a game in which saw the once relevant Flyers rout the Isles 7-0. He played 21 shifts, a total of 15:56, 13:57 of which was on even-strength. His return is crucial and will only make Mark Streit that much better come playoff time.
- Keeping this post, and especially this bullet, short and sweet: JOHN. TAVARES. HART. TROPHY. Good day to you, America.