Image Credit: NY Islanders

Image Credit: NY Islanders

The New York Islanders 5-2 win over the Southeast leading Winnipeg Jets last night in Nassau Coliseum may have been the turning point of a season on many fronts.

Not least of all that the Isles are as of this afternoon in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings which signifies playoff territory. The Islanders also secured a rare home win, only their seventh, and did it by holding on to a lead in the final period, something they have struggled with all season.

As John Tavares has emerged as the superstar he was drafted to be this season, he tallied an empty net goal and assisted on another, other players have also raised their games to help the Isles contend. They have also found help in unlikely places. Such was the case with a move that took place before yesterday’s game which played dividends immediately in the form of Anders Lee.

The big Notre Dame forward, at 6’3” and 220, who the Isles signed to a two year entry level contract, skipped Bridgeport to make his debut last night. He scored the opening goal by discarding Jet defenseman Dustin Byfuglien like a worn out jacket while skating down the left side for a semi breakaway and smacked a lefty snap shot through the frozen body of net minder Ondrej Pavelec, who never even reacted to the shot. “I was so surprised. I just threw it in there.” Anders beamed. “The boy’s coming to congratulate me, it was pretty awesome.”

The Islanders started the first period excellently on the work of their defenseman, who set the tone early with physical play on the boards. Whether it was Carkner, Streit, or Hamonic, they won the battle on the boards. They limited Winnipeg to single long range shots and often took the rebounds down the ice setting up counterattacks.

They also killed off a power play when Matt Carkner was called for interference at 12:05. But a spirited defense especially from Matt Martin, helped disrupt the Jets unit and kept it 1-0. Coach Capuano was pleased with the effort. “The way we defended. We tracked the puck hard; we took away their second wave. We talked about it before the game. Their “D” creates a lot of offense for them. We got pucks to the net, that’s the big thing.”

The Isles were almost into the locker with a well-earned lead until the aforementioned “second wave” struck back for the Jets in the form of defenseman Paul Postma, who evened matters up. Eric Tangradi hustled around right side in an attempt to tap it in but saw the puck rebound in front of Isles goalie, Kevin Poulin. After what seemed forever, Postma came forward and shot it past Poulin to tie the score at 1-1 with less than two minutes remaining in the opening period.

The second period saw the Islanders dominate play from end to end. They were focused and intent throughout. A duel penalty on Carkner of the Isles and Cormier of Winnipeg at 2:26 for unsportsmanlike conduct did not change anything on the scoreboard.

They proceeded to outshoot the Jets 18-9 in the period but just like the first were not able to get the puck into the net and it seemed that it would cost them when Paul Postma scored again to give Winnipeg a 2-1 lead 6:02 into the period. Tangredi set up the goal by moving along the left boards as he snuck a pass to Chris Thorburn who waited patiently as Postma got just behind Hamonic and his pass caught the blade of Postma, who deflected it low past Poulin. At this point the crowd of 11,819 sighed collectively.

But the Islanders, desperate to change the momentum back into their favor, continued to work hard, in particular the board work paid off for the Islanders as Grabner took the puck behind the net and passed it out to the point along the boards to Streit, who shot it in and caught Grabner again, who redirected the partially deflected puck backward between his legs, surprising the Jets, and in one motion Colin McDonald received it and swept it under the legs of Pavelec and it trickled in to tie the score at two at the 9:56 mark. Relief was apparent on all faces.

The period was coming to an end when Winnipeg’s Evander Kane, frustrated, got called for hooking at 18:01. Streit continued to quarterback the power play setting up chances until his shot smacked into a crowd in front which included Bailey as it rebounded off him into open ice on the right side as Frans Nielsen rocketed it under the sprawling Pavelec to place the Isles ahead 3-2 on a power play goal with 28 seconds remaining in the second. “We just started getting the puck in deep again. Started hitting, moving the legs. We played like that for the last ten to twelve minutes.” Nielson explained.

The final period began with the Isles understanding that they needed to win this part of their game which would be the last hurdle to victory this evening. The Isles changed plans as they dumped the puck in more and depended on their work on the boards to kill time and make opportunities as the effort they expended in the second seemed to take its toll.

Winnipeg coach Claude Noel thought as much. “There was no cohesiveness whatsoever. It was hard to find guys that I could put out there. We had to try something.” But Winnipeg was also wearing down as Blake Wheeler seemed to be the lone threat coming forward and they were few and far between as Islander defenders reduced Winnipeg’s offense to a trickle.

Poulin also was excellent as the backup goalie played probably his best game of the season clearing many threats and handling many hard shots last night. “I thought he handled the rebounds well.” Capuano said. “His goalie touches were good tonight. And when they pulled the goalie, he made some big saves as well.”

Finally after 17 minutes of tension was finally broken as Brad Boyes got an outlet pass to Tavares who raced down the right side with Moulson on a two on one. Moulson, who had six shots on goal with no positive results, stayed ready to receive the pass from John, which came at the last possible moment and Matt flicked it in for his twelth of the season at 18:00 to ice the game at 4-2.

Poulin in particular was happy to get the breathing room. “When we scored that fourth goal it was great.” Poulin smiled. With 46 seconds left Tangredi of the Jets rolled to goal and dropped a pass into the crease where a pileup closed Winnipeg’s last gasp. Poulin was pleased to get in this type of action. “I like to get shots to make saves. That’s what I get paid for.”

Finally the bow was finally tied and cut when Moulson got a lead pass out that Boyes deflected forward to John Tavares who slipped away to tap in an empty net goal with 36 seconds remaining to finish the scoring at 5-2. An intense look was seen in this eyes and in his words to his assist makers as the realization that his 23rd goal of the season was just window dressing compared to the effort the Islanders displayed in winning a very physical battle.

Nielsen reminded the press corps of this. “It’s still a long away, a lot of points still on the board to be played for. It’s fun to be where we are in the standings, but there’s a ton of work to be done. We haven’t done anything yet.”

The Islanders secured their second win in a row a night after defeating the Devils 3-1 in the Prudential Center. The Isles now are tied with New Jersey for the seventh spot with 39 points and with a record of 18-16-3 are now two ahead of the Rangers who have to play a home and home series with Pittsburgh starting tonight. The Islanders, winners of five of their last six games, go to Washington to play the Capitals tomorrow night.

About Luis Vásquez

A ten year veteran in the field of freelance writing and editing. Among the publications he has written for is Defining TrendsMagazine, and NYC Sporting News. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for Ultimate Athlete Magazine.

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