Trent Hunter ended a marathon shootout on a high note for Islanders fans and Rick DiPietro saved 31 shots, as the Islanders escaped with a 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Saturday (1/16) night. In a game we predicted would be a real test for the Isles, they passed, but not without some drama. Here's how it unfolded:
Rookie John Tavares ended his nine game goal drought early on, as Kyle Okposo swerved nicely to avoid a defenseman, took a shot, and JT cleaned up (Buffalo goalie) Ryan Miller's rebound. There was just 5:38 gone on the game clock, but the Isles led 1-0. For Tavares it was goal #17. For Okie, assist #22.
The first period ended with little else happening, outside of two ineffective power play chances being awarded to the Islanders. The crowd would enjoy a bit more action in the 2nd frame.
The save of the night came nine minutes or so after the intermission, as Matt Moulson fed a beautiful pass to Frans Nielsen, who was waiting just outside of Miller's crease. The Dane was looking to put the Islanders up by two goals, but Miller somehow kicked Nielsen's attempt aside and kept his team down by a solitary score. It was a highlight reel save; one of the best we're seen this season.
The Isles did net a second goal at the 15:33 mark, though. Sean Bergenheim struck with help from d-men Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit. But before the ink was even dry on the score sheet, Sabre Mike Grier answered for Buffalo. The score was now 2-1 in favor of New York, the goals coming only 21 seconds apart.
It stayed 2-1 into the third period, when a seemingly good New York goal was waved off by one of the officials for goaltender interference. Andy Sutton was claimed to have been the guilty party on the play. The video replay shown to the fans and benches was inconclusive, but it appeared as if little or no contact with Miller was made. The fans were up in arms, and some unpleasant chants rained down on the officials. The ruling stood nevertheless, and it stayed 2-1.
Later on (9:35) Rick DiPietro allowed a second goal, this time to Drew Stafford, his 12th of the year. The teams went to overtime, with the home fans feeling as if they had been cheated out of a point by a dubious call.
Nothing was settled in overtime, so the teams went to the shootout, or "skills competition," as some announcers like to call it. The battle lasted for eight rounds, but the Islanders finally came out on top. Scoring for the Isles were Rob Schremp, Matt Moulson, John Tavares, and Trent Hunter, the final shooter. Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey, Doug Weight, and Kyle Okposo missed on their opportunities. The final, though: Isles 3, Buffalo 2.
After the game, coach Scott Gordon thought that Rick DiPietro did a good job of controlling rebounds against a very good offensive team. DP made 31 saves and earned his first NHL win since December 26th, 2008.
Rick was more focused on the big picture, saying that he moved well and stressing that "we got the extra point which is going to be huge for us coming down to the end of the season."
The point was the Islanders' 50th of the season, vaulting them at least temporarily into a playoff spot.
Another test comes quickly as the Isles play conference leader New Jersey on Monday (1/18) afternoon at 2 PM.