The New York Islanders watched a lead slip away in the final 88 seconds of regulation before falling to the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in a shootout Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum.
The game marked the NHL debut of 27-year-old goalie Nathan Lawson who made 32 saves during the game, but failed to stop any of the three Coyotes players in the shootout. Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Kyle Turris all beat Lawson during the penalty shot competition to give Phoenix the victory.
“I just try to take it one shot at a time,” Lawson said. “The big differences up here are speed, and harder forechecking and harder shooting. I felt really good out there. I wasn’t nervous at all. It was a great game until the last minute-and-a-half.”
The Islanders came out shooting, managing 19 shots in the first period and 44 in the game. Strong play by Coyotes starter Jason Labarbera, subbing for the injured Ilya Bryzgalov, made a big difference in the game. Labarbera made 41 saves to earn the victory.
Vrbata gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead on a power play goal at the 6:57 mark of the opening period when he deflected a Shane Doan shot past Lawson. The Coyotes maintained that lead through the end of the first period despite being outshot 19-8.
The Islanders evened the score midway through the second stanza when Jessie Joensuu took a pass from John Tavares and let a wrist shot go from the left circle that beat Labarbera and found the back of the net.
Michael Grabner made it 2-1 Isles when the puck deflected off his skate and into the net. Labarbera claimed the puck was kicked in, but after a review, the goal was upheld saying there was no distinct kicking motion. The Isles maintained that 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.
The Coyotes drew even just 4:03 into the third period off a pretty pass from Doan to Wojtek Wolski who slipped past Isles defenseman Jack Hillen and tapped the puck into the open left side of the goal for his fifth tally of the season.
Rob Schremp gave the Islanders back the lead with a power play goal just 2:19 later. Schremp put home the second rebound of a shot by Grabner off a scramble in front of the net and the Isles held a 3-2 lead.
Lawson had played well for most of the game and the Islanders played solid team defense in front of him. But in the game’s final minutes, his inexperience began to show. Martin Hanzal took advantage of a fat rebound allowed by Lawson to tie the game with just 1:28 left in regulation time.
“Up until about a minute and a half left in the third I felt really good,” Lawson said. “I’m pretty disappointed in that last goal, and obviously very, very upset about the shootout. But I mean it’s a stepping stone, and we got one point so just look at positives I guess.”
Phoenix had a good chance to win it in overtime when Grabner was called for delay of game with 11 seconds left in the third period. The Coyotes had two shots hit the post during the power play, but Lawson held his ground and the game went to the shootout. All three Coyotes scored in the penalty shot competition, but Frans Nielsen was the only Islander who beat Labarbera.
“When you dig yourself a hole, you have to work your way out of it,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “Tonight, we did.”
Meanwhile, Isles Coach Jack Capuano saw some positive signs from his team’s recent play. “I think they believe now in one another that we’re a team that can score some goals,” he said. “Early on, we weren’t scoring or were scoring only one goal a game. We got back-to-back three goal games, they’re doing things the right way, and it just takes a little belief in that room and I think it’s coming right now.”
The Isles return to action Wednesday night when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lawson was called up on an emergency basis because Rick DiPietro was out with a swollen knee. Dwayne Roloson served as the backup for the Islanders.
Mark Eaton and Bruno Gervais were the other Islanders scratches. David Schlemko, Scottie Upshall and Sam Lopisto joined Bryzgalov as the Coyotes scratches.
Trevor Gillies won a lengthy fight early in the first period from Paul Bissonnette of Phoenix.