NEWARK, N. J.– What started out as a game completely dominated by a surging Islanders squad, filled with early goals, efficient defensive zone puck cycling, clean entrance into and through the neutral zone, not to mention a brutal knockout punch by Matt Martin, plateaued by the second period, and yet reemerged ever so slightly in the third.
The Islanders did not outplay the Devils in the last 40 minutes of tonight’s matchup, more than New Jersey simply lacked creativity and some luck on the offensive side of things. But more precisely, if not for the outstanding goaltending of veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, the Islanders would most certainly have lost one of the more critical matches that make up these last stretch of games, not to mention the season. And if ever there was a time to go on a run as a team, tonight’s contest was most certainly it. Honestly, the momentum needed to charge up a squad in desperate need of confidence at home can only come from a road win such as this one. The Islanders have their destiny in their hands.
Hold onto your knickers ladies and gentlemen, because it’s only going to get more hotly contested as the days progress, for as it stands the Islanders are in a dead-heat with the Rangers, as their cross-town rivals took care of the Winnipeg Jets 4-2, and rest assured, the Jets are out for blood tomorrow night at the Coliseum.
Soft game you thought, this Jets matchup? Easy win? Easier than most? Think again. Every game from here until the end, or until the Islanders paint themselves out of the playoff picture, will feel like a Game 7, if you will. Now we will see what the Islanders are truly made of: now they must prove to the entire hockey world their mettle and their resolve. Now is the time to shine and disprove a cynical and critical hockey community, who’ve enjoyed almost a decade’s worth of ridicule at the Isles’s expense, their preconceived notions about how terrible a franchise and team exists out in Long Island.
Tied for 8th against a wealthier and more playoff stacked/ready team in the New York Rangers, I believe the Islanders are still, nevertheless, the best Eastern Conference team comprising the bottom 8: said Rangers, Canes, Capitals, Flyers, Sabres, Bolts, and Panthers. Only the Islanders can boast an uptick in the last week or so, and only they can feel the necessary and much grounded belief that they are in a good position to make a legitimate run at the final playoff spot. They are the best team not in the top 7 spots in the East. And the Islanders have beaten every team within the 7th spots at least once.
May not always be pretty, these wins of theirs, but man are they gut-wrenching, and when successful, reassert one’s love for this franchise!
The Islanders would open up the scoring at the 00:52 of the first, as Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo convert a defensive zone clear by Thomas Hickey into one of the prettiest goals of the year for Josh Bailey, who undressed Martin Brodeur, giving New York the boost it needed to quell the crowd and rob the momentum at the onset:
Only a half dozen goals for Bailey this year, but scoring tonight when absolutely necessary. Let’s hope Josh can become the consistent talent we all hoped he would be, so as to have opposing teams alleviate their pressure on the Isles’s first line, thereby allowing more free ice for Matt Moulson and John Tavares to recapture their seemingly allusive scoring and playmaking sense.
For the next 7 minutes of the first period the Islanders were absolutely crisp with their passing, leaving little for the Devils to pounce upon, and taking the body whenever possible, especially at their own blue line.
At the 7:14 mark Travis Hamonic floats a shot from the point, (fed by Nielsen who was desperately trying to save the offensive drive from an earlier unsuccessful faceoff attempt) obviously hoping for an opportune rebound for an Isles forward to scoop up, completely fooling Brodeur in the process, scoring his 3rd of the season, and continuing the trend (slightly interrupted in Pittsburgh) of defenseman goals.
The key to the wins at this late juncture of the season has been the success Islander defensemen have had pinching in on the play and creating scoring opportunities for themselves, and/or others. Spreading out the scoring in such a manner has proven difficult for some teams to manage, tonight being no exception:
The Islanders would start to rest on their laurels around the last 8 minutes of the first period, deluding themselves into believing that the Devils had nothing left in the tank for them. But the second period disproved that ridiculous notion.
The Devils opened up the period with a much livelier forecheck, keeping the Islanders hemmed in for most of the 20 minutes (but Nabokov proved stingy and stubborn throughout the entire barrage of shots and rushes regardless of the one goal.) Within the first two minutes one gained a sense that the Islanders were only seconds away from losing their two goal lead, and at the 8:01 mark Alexi Ponikarovsky, with help by Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac, broke through, leaving Isles fans chewing away at their nails and revisiting the pits of their stomachs for that ever-so familiar feeling of impending doom.
With the Islanders lead cut down to one, the game plan became one of maintaining rather than obtaining goals. The lack of penalty draws proves that the Islanders weren’t hustling enough for pucks and attempting shots, etc. It would take another period more for the Islanders to draw their first penalty (10:18 mark to be exact), but in the meantime, the Isles played chase to the Devils relentless forecheck. One also got the feeling that if the Isles could fend off the tie by the close of the second, then their chances of victory were better, and thus, the momentum slowly swing back in their favor in the process.
And the Islanders did manage to stave off the tie, and took the lead into the third. Nabokov looked as poised as ever, and one can only imagine him rising to the occasion, for he must know that playoff hunts and appearances will be few and far between as his career is coming to a close. If and when the Islanders make it, Evgeni Nabokov is the first man the Isles must congratulate. Period.
Third period action bore witness to more defending against Devil pressure, only this time the Islanders pushed back just enough, as Keith Aucoin draws a hooking penalty at the 8:41 mark, removing Stephen Gionta from the ice for a key 2 minutes, and John Tavares buried a generous rebound into a virtually empty net.
The Devils couldn’t quite figure out the puzzle laying out in front of them tonight, and it cost New Jersey two valuable points. And lest we forget, they lead the Islanders by only one point. By the end of next week, we may well see a shift in standings the likes of which will have all of hockey turning their heads in complete surprise….or maybe not. :p
Three and half minutes after the Hamonic goal, an interesting and equally gruesome event occurred in the neutral zone: Matt Martin delivers a clean check upon Gionta, after Gionta plays the puck–in other words, Martin finished the check, so to speak. Tom Kostopoulos did what most hockey players are paid to do, as well, which is to pick up your team’s spirit and go after the guy who’s going after your key player. Well, Kostopoulos got popped right in the kisser and went down like a ton of bricks. I mean he just dropped to the floor.
Courtesy of Getty Images
Martin immediately called for the trainer and the fight was over in a flash. The Islanders did not necessarily gain any momentum from that brutal victory, but it proves to all NHLers out there, Martin is the real deal. You may get your licks now and again, but Martin will hurt you if you’re not paying attention. I mean that. HE WILL HURT YOU.
I haven’t see such a wicked punch to the face like that in years. Reminded me of Gillies and all his fights will Terry O’Reilly. Those were battles. And again, unlike how I remember fights in the past, Matt Martin proved to be a class act, as always, for he immediately knew the damaged he inflicted and stopped.
Matt Martin = heart and soul of this team. Undeniably so.
(Video courtesy of SB*Nation via Youtube.com)
The Islanders head home to the Coliseum, a most dreadful place to play hockey Islander hockey this year. And truth be told, this team is 4 loses away from elimination. If they want to make the playoffs, then the Jets must be annihilated in the worst way tomorrow night. The Islanders cannot afford loses or ties. Win or go home. Good day to you.
Although not presented in HD this evening, tonight’s Isles’ feed was brought to you by the voice of Jiggs McDonald. Ah, Jiggs, how I missed thee.
Three stars:Frans Nielsen
with 2 As,Josh Bailey
1G, and Alexi Ponikarovsky 1g. FOR ME:Evgeni Nabokov
, Matt Martin,Josh Bailey
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