The Islanders certainly know how to keep it exciting. What they don’t know is how to keep a lead late in the period.
A problem that has plagued this team for years reared its ugly head again last night, but thankfully the Isles were able to overcome it this time for a thrilling 4-3 OT victory.
Simply put, the Islanders don’t lose when they score three goals. Ok, they do, but not very often. So, when they took a 3-2 lead in last night’s game in Vancouver entering the third period, you would expect them to be able to lock it down. Well, it’s never easy with this team. The Isles really controlled play for most of the third period, out shooting the Canucks 13-7. With under 30 seconds to go, and Ryan Miller pulled for the extra man, Vancouver would give the home fans something to be excited about. Cal Clutterbuck tried to flip the puck past Troy Stecher but was unable to do so. Stecher kept it in the zone, took a pass and slide it through the sea of humanity to beat Thomas Greiss. Just like that, with 19.6 seconds to go, the game was tied at three.
The unfortunate game-tying goal did not scare Coach Doug Weight into changing his late game strategy, or the players who will be involved next time. “I’m going to keep putting Clutter out there in the final minute,” Weight said. “He knows what he needs to do there. I think he’s going to need some sticks sent to St. Louis, because he broke all the rest he had…But we bailed him out. He’s done it for us plenty.” That is the sign of a strong team that believes in its guys. You can’t get too low. Every point matters at this stage of the season, so confidence is key.
With Toronto and Tampa having been victorious earlier in the evening, the pressure was on the Isles to keep up. The Isles struggled through the first period, looking like a team playing its eighth straight on the road. But, just like that, they flipped the switch. Even though they had just four shots on goal in the first period, they made one of them count. Josh Bailey, who is having a career year, came up the left side and then slid the puck to John Tavares who dumped it into the open net, giving the Isles the early lead.
The Canucks would strike back quickly in the second, as the Isles again started slow. By the 3:31 mark, the Isles were down 2-1. It was really no fault of Thomas Greiss who again was stupendous in net. Defensive breakdowns and bad turnovers, especially on the second goal, led to great scoring chances for Vancouver.
The Islanders wouldn’t stay down for long. About six minutes after the Canucks took the lead, Anthony Beauvillier took matters into his own hands. The Isles’ rookie showed the speed, and poise that made the team so high on him. He took the puck at center ice, broke in, and flat out beat Ryan Miller to tie the game at two.
With the game tied at three heading to overtime, the Isles knew they needed that extra point. They did not waste much time getting it done. Just 93 seconds into the extra frame, Clavin deHaan brought the puck in along the right boards. As he got deeper into the zone, he fed a cross-ice pass to BC native Andrew Ladd, who was parked right in front of the net. Ladd tapped it behind Miller for the game winner, and an important two points for the Isles. They remain one point ahead of the Maple Leafs (with the tiebreaker) in the race for the final Wild Card spot. The Leafs play Carolina on Saturday evening, while the Isles head to St. Louis.
“We found a way to win,” Ladd said. “Some nights you’re not going to have it, but you have to find a way. The third was our best period. We came in after the second and said ‘hey we have a 3-2 lead and we haven’t played our best hockey yet.’ We wanted to come out and grind them down in the third and make them work for it.”
Ladd, who grew up less than an hour away from Rogers Arena, rejoined the team after being honored in Calgary the night before. Ladd played Junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen, and he was honored with his jersey being risen to the rafters, as part of their “Forever a Hitmen” honor. Although he played only two seasons in Calgary (2003-05), Ladd was an important piece of the team, and proved to be quite capable of lighting the lamp. He appeared in 136 regular season games, tallying 49 goals and 71 assists for 120 points. In 19 playoff games, he notched eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points.
Thomas Greiss was great as usual, coming up with huge saves, and turning away 36 of 39 shots.
The Isles finish up the road trip with a Saturday night game in St. Louis. The Islanders are guaranteed a winning road trip, having taken 11 out of a possible 16 points (5-2-1) in eight games so far. They will return home Monday to play Carolina in a home-and-home. They will play three of their next four at home.