Saturday, March 12, 2011

Isles Bite Back Against Boston

First things first: though they are in the middle of a resurgence, the Islanders won’t be making the playoffs this year. I make that statement with some degree of certainty, because even though they sit “only” 10 points out of eighth place, to leap over five teams while they play each other is nearly impossible. The math just doesn’t work. Especially in a league that gives a point to teams for doing little more than showing up each night.

Keeping that in mind, the Islanders again faced an elite “measuring stick” opponent on Friday night, as they hosted Boston and their suddenly controversial big man Zdeno Chara. Chara injured Montreal’s Max Pacioretty with a hit two games prior. No suspension was handed out. Because of this, Islanders fans booed him each time he touched the puck as if he was Dale Hunter.

Al Montoya started in goal for the Islanders. It was the first time I had seen Montoya play in person. He played well, stopping 26 shots. He allowed a first period goal to Nathan Horton with about 3 and one half minutes left in the frame.

But in a game that my colleagues and I agreed was “groan-worthy” early on, the Isles didn’t convert their opportunities while Boston did. Later faced with a 5-on-3 power play, Montoya couldn’t prevent a second goal.

The momentum of the game then suddenly turned. Matt Moulson netted his 29th goal of the season just before the second period ended. Michael Grabner fired a goal behind Tim Thomas early in the third to tie the game. The building was rocking, and it wasn't the visiting fans making the noise.

John Tavares had a sweet backhanded pass to help Moulson on his goal, while Kyle Okposo assisted on Garbner’s. For Kyle, it was assist number 11.

He didn’t have to wait too long for number twelve, assisting on Jack Hillen’s go-ahead goal just 4 minutes and 30 seconds later. The Islanders were buzzing and all of a sudden Boston had their fans groaning and looking stunned.

"I think that's a huge goal at the end of the second [period]," Kyle said after the game. "A two goal deficit especially against a great team like Boston is tough to overcome."

The Islanders sealed the 4-2 comeback victory when P.A. Parenteau was mugged on his way to an empty net goal. The officials made the correct call and awarded the tally.

For his two assist effort, Kyle earned the second star of the game. In 25 games, he has 16 points.

Coach Jack Capuano was pleased after the game, making sure to mention that the attitude in locker room is very relaxed at this point in the season. Critics will say that it's because they don't have much to play for except in a spoiler's role, but the stats confirm that the Islanders have been one of hockey's best teams since the All-Star break.

Though I don't give them much of a shot for postseason play this year, I am looking forward to seeing three players (Moulson, Grabner, and Tavares) reach the 30 goal mark. With full healthy seasons from Kyle and Mark Streit added to the mix, hopefully this time next year we will be talking about the Islanders clinching a playoff spot.

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