Jaroslav Halak enjoyed a near perfect night as he led the Islanders to a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames Friday night at the Nassau Coliseum. Halak stopped a penalty shot, set a new franchise record with his 33rd win of the season and nearly shut out the Flames. In the end, goals by Ryan Strome and Cal Clutterbuck proved to be enough for the Isles to earn a vital two points and retake first place in the Metropolitan Division.
“They don’t give you much,” Isles’ head coach Jack Capuano said when asked about the Flames. “Tonight we were patient when we had to be, we were aggressive when we needed to be and the penalty kill came up big for us.”
The Islanders drew first blood when Strome scored off a scramble in front of the net at 11:39 during the first Isles’ power play of the night. It was Strome’s 14th goal of the season and it ended a streak of 13 straight games that Calgary had not allowed the opposition to score with the man advantage.
The Flames had a chance to even the game just two minutes later when Michael Ferland was awarded a penalty shot when Johnny Boychuk allegedly hooked him from behind on a breakaway, but Halak stood tall and made the stop to preserve the 1-0 lead for the home team.
“I was able to stay with him and make the save,” Halak said. “He didn’t do too much on it, he just shot it and I was able to stop it.”
The Islanders controlled the puck and the tempo for much of the game, but the Flames defense did a good job of preventing the Isles from getting too many rebounds or deflections. Goalie Karri Ramo also played well, finishing the game with 37 saves and allowing just the one goal by Strome.
The Islanders appeared to take a 2-0 lead early in the third period when Clutterbuck scored from just outside the crease, but the officials ruled that Brock Nelson had interfered with Ramo prior to the puck going in and the goal as immediately disallowed.
“It was a tough call, “Clutterbuck said. “Even with the replay it was tough to see where the interference with the goalie was, but we got one back there…All and all it was a pretty good effort.”
Clutterbuck managed a hint of redemption when he scored into an empty net at 19:18 of the final period. He had hit the post just a few seconds prior to scoring.
Halak had also tried to clear the puck towards the vacated Calgary goal but his shot didn’t make it all the way across the ice.
The Islanders goalie lost his shutout bid with 20.9 seconds left on the clock when Josh Jooris scored his 11th goal of the year to get the Flames on the board. But it wasn’t enough and the Islanders skated away with a hard-fought two points.
While he lost the shutout, Halak still appreciated the milestone he reached by winning 33 games in a season. The previous Isles record of 32 was shared by Hall of Famer Billy Smith, Chris Osgood and Rick DiPietro.
“It feels good, obviously,” Halak said after the game. “But I wasn’t trying to set any records, I was just trying to win the game. We got it done…Obviously, I wanted the shutout and wasn’t thinking of [scoring] a goal, but obviously, I didn’t get either of them.”
Halak has been the Isles’ most valuable player over the course of this season. His consistency is a major reason the Islanders have improved to 41-20-2 on the season.
“That’s been the story all year,” Strome said when asked about Halak’s play. “He made the penalty shot save and had some big moments…Every time he goes out there, we feel confident. That’s a good feeling to have. We try not to give up too much but when we do, he’s there for us.”
The Islanders don’t have much time to celebrate the win as they return to action Saturday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at 5 pm.
The game was a sellout with 16,170 fans in attendance.
The Islanders first regular-season game in franchise history came against the Flames who were then located in Atlanta. Both teams entered the league in 1972. The Flames skated away with a 3-2 win over the Isles in that original contest. Ed Westfall scored the first goal in Isles’ history while Morris Stefaniw scored the first official NHL goal on Coliseum ice.