The final score was 4-3 Hurricanes in a shootout, but that can’t be the big story tonight. The big story is the culmination of a rebuild.
It was a sloppy game that wasn’t really as close as it looked and really, the Isles didn’t deserve to win, but a late, game tying goal gave the Isles an important point and a little help from the Washington Capitals put our New York Islanders into the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. A team destruction, a pending relocation and the evolution of the rebuild later, the greatest American hockey dynasty is ready to make some post-season noise. Let’s do this. Get your tickets, deafen some opposition and send the NVMC out on a high note!
In the first, the Isles looked like a team that might have some “clinching” butterflies. It was a sloppy period complete with turnovers, giveaways, bad passes, overzealous goalie puck play and an assortment of other mistakes. Despite all that, the Isles outdid the Hurricanes in shots and dominated them on faceoffs, but not on the scoreboard.
The Canes struck first off a John Tavares turnover at the Carolina blue line. They were able to turn it around into a 3 on 2 entering the Isles zone and Alex Semin came in down the right wing and fired a weak, tough angle wrist shot that sneaked through Evgeni Nabokov.
After that, the Isles woke up a bit. Keith Aucoin hit the post after he was sprung on a breakaway from a Michael Grabner tip pass. Shortly after that, Mark Streit corralled a pass at the point, took a step in, and fired a shot/pass toward traffic that was deflected in by Brad Boyes’ skate. In the intermission interview, Boyes admitted it was purposely done with a focus on not moving his foot to look like a “kicking motion”.
A little over a minute later, Lubomir Visnovsky hit Colin McDonald with a stretch pass that he carried into the Canes’ zone where he pulled up and found Grabner for a mini-breakaway. Grabner was hooked on the play by Semin and didn’t convert, but the Isles went to the power play.
Which remained pretty ugly.
After that power play, the Canes got the better of the play. At the 16:20 mark, they took the lead after the Isles were hemmed in their zone for a stretch. Jordan Staal was left barely covered and tipped home a weak point shot by Jay Harrison to give the Canes a 2-1 lead they carried into the second.
The first seven minutes of the second were an absolute slop-fest by both teams. The turnovers were abundant and there weren’t many good shots or scoring chances for either team.
But around that seven minute mark, the Isles won a faceoff just outside the Carolina zone. Kyle Okposo carried the puck in and made several moves (including a semi toe-drag) to back defenders off and fired a heavy wrist shot. Ellis got that, but the rebound ended up right on Josh Bailey’s stick just to his left and he slammed it home for his 11th of the year to tie it at two.
The Isles built some momentum off of that and Jesse Joensuu had a chance followed by a great shift by Bailey/Nielsen/Okposo where they hemmed the Canes in for so long that Aucoin was able to come on and get a couple of point blank shots on Ellis (one may have hit the post or a very small piece of his glove).
Nabokov did his part to keep the game tied when he made a beautiful lateral sliding save on a Islanders defensive zone breakdown. The Staal brothers were basically left all alone and Jordan fed Eric with a cross-ice feed in tight that Eric pounded, but Nabby ate up.
Late in the period, Andrew MacDonald had a Hurricane player lined up for a monster hit (or so he thought) and completely shanked it. The puck went behind the Isles net where Aucoin overskated it. Tuomo Ruutu passed it out in front where it deflected off of Jordan Staal and across to Patrick Dwyer who blasted it past Nabokov.
The Isles came close to tying when Grabner broke in in a hurry and fired a wrist shot that got through Ellis, but there were no Islanders in the vicinity and a Hurricane defender was able to grab the dribbler and tuck it into Ellis for a faceoff. The Canes took a 3-2 lead into the 3rd.
The third saw the teams exchange dangerous chances (if not the game) as the Isles launched a heavy press to tie and gambled a lot, but were routinely turned away by Dan Ellis. It started out sketchy…The Canes had a great scoring chance that Semin took an interference on that really turned the tide early.
Tavares made a great move early to cut to the middle on the ensuing power play in fantastic scoring position, but was blocked.
The Bailey/Okposo/Nielsen line was flying throughout the third. Bailey had a tip through a screen that was kicked away by Ellis. Matt Martin and Jesse Joensuu had a similar play moments later that was also turned away.
Perhaps the biggest break of the game came after a Travis Hamonic point shot just missed and the Canes iced the puck only to have it negated by an inexplicable Nabokov goalie handle. He misplayed it though, and it came out front and the Canes hit the post on the chance.
The teams continued to exchange chances though (and the Isles continued to cede odd-man rushes trying to tie). Nabokov needed a sprawling poke check to break up a quality Canes rush, after Boyes had a nice shot from in close after a faceoff win, but the clutch one, John Tavares was able to billiard one in off a hurricane after a slick cross ice pass from Moulson to tie it at 18:59.
The Canes got the better of the shots in OT (5-3) , but the Isles had better chances. Grabner hit the post and the teams played end to end and gambled more than you’re used to seeing lately. Tavares had another good chance after he broke in and got Ellis moving to his left and shot back to Ellis’ right, but he was able to snare it with the glove. Bailey and Okposo also had a glorious chance to no avail.
The shootout made it a little anticlimactic in the end. Your shooters:
- Nielsen forehand saved (his 3rd consecutive miss)
- Nash wrist shot trickled through Nabby’s glove
- Boyes wrist shot saved
- Skinner wrist shot goal
A great game played by the Hurricanes tonight, but in the end, the Isles did just enough to get the points they needed to provide another jolt of optimism to a fanbase that has needed it a long time. The next step is to ensure their seeding and finish out the regular season strong and healthy…and to perhaps make sure that power play is clicking on all cylinders.
Congratulations Islander fans. If you’re still here, you’ve earned this. This young team has earned this, and let’s enjoy a new beginning for the franchise, and a potential last hurrah for the locale.
Also, the Rangers lost to the Panthers! Whoo!