Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:
With a 7-1-1 record in their last nine games, the Islanders have climbed from an 11th place tie in the Eastern Conference standings on March 23rd to a sixth place tie tonight, April 9th. The Ottawa Senators lost in regulation to Tampa Bay, giving the Islanders a share of sixth.
It started out a bit rocky, as the Flyers opened up a 1-0 lead six minutes in off a home run pass to Jakob Voracek that found it’s way into the net. Well, the puck went into the net along with Andrew MacDonald and Evgeni Nabokov. Vorachek took the pass from Claude Giroux and threaded it through Nabokov’s five hole. It seemed like it would have gone in anyway, but a hustling MacDonald dove and ended up in the net, taking Nabokov and the puck with him. But that’s where the Islanders would go to work.
The Islanders would end up out shooting the Flyers in the first, 8-5, and Matt Moulson would tie the game off a pretty feed from Brad Boyes. Boyes danced through the Philly defense in the slot and handed it to Moulson who notched his 13th of the year.
In the next frame the teams went back and forth, amassing 27 shots (14-13 PHI). The Islanders had quite a few chances but were frustrated by Flyers netminder Steve Mason for much of the period. Kyle Okposo had a breakaway and made a beautiful backhand move that was stoned by the netminder. Michael Grabner also had a breakaway where he blew by the defense with a burst of speed but couldn’t stuff it home.
Finally, with three minutes to go, Grabner would break through for the only goal of the period and what would be the eventual game winner. He took a feed from Colin McDonald — excuse me, a perfect feed from Colin McDonald — and made no mistake putting it top shelf past Mason. That was Grabner’s 13th, matching Moulson. That line of Grabner – Aucoin – McDonald was buzzing all night, creating a lot of good chances.
The third period was a bit nerve wracking, if only in a don’t screw this up, guys kind of way. The Islanders held only the one goal advantage, but were buzzing and pushing for the tying goal much of the frame. Josh Bailey had a point blank shot go off the post with about six minutes to go — another line that was excellent and has been — but it would be Tavares and the first line that added insurance. Moulson and Tavares came down the ice 2-on-1 and Moulson fed Tavares, who was able to get off a good shot. It was stopped by Mason but the ensuing rebound went in off Eric Gustafsson, a diving Flyers defender. Maybe it was a bit of karmic justice that the Islanders got a goal off a diving defender after Voracek’s first period score. An empty netter from Casey Cizikas would make it 4-1 and the locals rejoiced.
The Islanders earned an important two points and took care of business prior to two big tilts later this week; a trip to Boston on Thursday before returning home to host the eighth place Rangers on Saturday.
It’s unbelievable how good the team has been during this run. This run, if you remember, directly followed the team’s nightmarish 1-3 homestand at the end of March. All of a sudden, the whole team is clicking at even strength despite the power play behing zero for the last a lot. The team has a hot goaltender in Evgeni Nabokov and isn’t just looking comfortable with a lead — they’re going in for the kill.
With eight games left the team likely has to play .500 hockey to make the post-season. A 5-3 or 4-4 record should do it. Sports Club Stats has the Isles at a 76% chance to make it now, up 10% after tonight. Maybe they’ll be able to take sixth or seventh and earn a matchup with Washington or Montreal, two teams they are a combined 4-1-1 against this year.