The New York Islanders saw leads of 3-0 and 4-1 slip away but goals by Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen in the shootout earned the Isles a 6-5 win over the visiting Atlanta Thrashers Saturday night. Nielsen had three assists for the Isles during regulation while Maxim Afinogenov had two goals and two assists to pace the Thrashers’ attack.
The game was a wide open one throughout with both teams earning many quality scoring chances.
“It was a high scoring game,” Isles’ forward Josh Bailey said. “It was real exciting obviously. We would’ve liked to keep the extra point away from them but were happy with the win.”
The Thrashers were pleased that they didn’t quit after falling behind early and earned a point, but they remain winless in their last eight games.
“We’re on a winless streak here but we found a way to get a point here and
maybe that’s the difference at the end of the season,” explained Thrasher’s forward, Rich Peverley. “We just
started to take it to them and shoot and when that happens, they’re going to
back off. That was the difference.”
The first period was all Islanders. They outshot the Thrashers 17-5 and took a 3-0 lead by the end of the period.
Matt Moulson broke through for the game’s first tally at the 7:13 mark when he tapped home the rebound of a shot by Rob Schremp just one second after an Islander power play ended. It was the first goal for Moulson after a 10 game drought and the score was a big load off the forward’s mind.
“I was mad I got pushed in the net after the goal because I was ready for a big celebration,” Moulson said with a smirk after the game. The goal tied him for the team lead with John Tavares with 16.
Jon Sim made it 2-0 almost three minutes later on a one-timer set up by a pretty spinning pass by Josh Bailey that created a momentary 2-on-1 down low. Sim made no mistake and the Islanders doubled their lead.
Richard Park’s goal closed out the first period scoring. Park poked home the puck from just outside the crease over the sprawling Johan Hedberg. The play was kept alive by Doug Weight, who covered the point when Bruno Gervais pinched. Weight kept the puck in the zone and found Tambellini who put the puck on net before Park put home the rebound.
Atlanta wasted little time in getting on the board in the second period. Afinogenov scored his first goal of the game and 14th of the season on a one-timer from the right circle just 50 seconds into the second period. Nik Antropov was stationed in front of the Islander goal to help screen Isles’ goalie Dwayne Roloson who managed to get his arm on the shot but couldn’t stop it from entering the net.
The Islanders answered back just 39 seconds later and restored their three goal lead. Brandon Witt pinched in from the point and made a nice cross ice pass to Hunter who was stationed in the deep slot between the circles. Hunter’s wrist shot beat Hedberg in the five-hole and it was 4-1 New York.
The game grew more and more wide open as the second period progressed which was not what the Islanders wanted. Isles’ Coach Scott Gordon said his team stopped doing some of the little things it needs to be successful in the second period.
“We found some shortcuts to take and before you know it, it’s in the back
of your net,” Gordon said. “Kovalchuk is a guy who can get the puck on his
stick anytime and be a shot threat. He’s got a hard shot, he’s fast and great at
protecting the puck. When you have a guy like that, he’s going to keep his team in the game
every night. We had a couple of shifts where we took the foot off the pedal and
that was enough for them to get their opportunities.”
Afinogenov’s second goal of the game came at the 4:44 mark of the second period on a 2-on-1 break with Tobias Enstrom. Enstrom, who ended the game with three assists, set up Afinogenov’s one-timer that beat a sliding Roloson and cut the Islanders lead to 4-2.
Josh Bailey scored a wild goal to increase the Isles’ lead to 5-2 at the 10:02 mark of the second stanza. Bailey came into the zone, faked out a defeseman and made a backhand pass that deflected off Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian and bounced into the air. Bailey reached for the lose puck but missed it. It went off the glove of Hedberg and bounced into the net.
A review by the “War Room” in Toronto upheld the goal and Bailey said he never touched the puck while it was in the air. It was Bailey’s 9th goal of the season.
“I knew they were going to count it, because I knew i didn’t touch it, I just got a good bounce,” Bailey said. “Well take it.”
It took Atlanta only 10 seconds to get the goal back. Antropov let a shot go from the left circle that beat Roloson who complained that he was interfered with on the play. The goal stood despite Roloson’s protests. Peverley scored 2:46 later on a backhand from between the circles and New York’s lead was down to one goal.
The pace slowed down in the third period, but it was Ilya Kovalchuk who got the equalizer with 8:37 remaining in regulation time on his only shot on goal in the game. It was a one-timer from the left point and gave Kovalchuk his 25th tally of the season and the teams were tied 5-5 after 60 minutes.
The Islanders went on the power play in overtime when Christoph Schubert was called for high sticking, but they didn’t manage a shot on goal with the man advantage. Neither team scored in the extra five minutes and the game headed for the shootout.
Tambellini and Nielsen scored for the Isles in the shootout while Slava Kozlov scored for Atlanta after Kovalchuk’s shot went wide. Schremp’s shot went over the top of the net to give the Thrashers one more chance to stay alive, but Rich Peverley’s backand shot went wide and that gave the Isles a 6-5 victory.
“It shows a lot about our character,” Bailey explained.
“We managed to bounce back and find a way to win. It’s tough to keep that
pressure and keep going but we were able to get the two points.”
The Isles return to action Wednesday night when they travel to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche. Atlanta continue their road trip Tuesday night when they face the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at the Igloo.
Freddy Meyer was a healthy scratch for the Isles while Tim Jackman sat out the game with a broken orbital bone.
Rob Schremp won all six faceoffs he took. Atlanta’s Nik Antropov won only 3-of-22 faceoffs for a 14 percent success rate.
Kovalchuk now has points in 12 of his last 13 games, scoring 10 goals and 11 assists in that period.