The New York Islanders ended their three-game losing streak with a strong performance and a convincing 3-2 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum. Goals by Kyle Okposo and Lubomir Visnovsky 51 seconds apart midway through the third period proved to be the difference. Jaroslav Halak played well and made 23 saves to earn the victory.
“It was a good win for our bunch,” Okposo said. “Going down 2-1 in the third, we could have folded, but we didn’t. We had a pretty good second and third period and the way we responded says a lot about our team.”
The Blackhawks came out strong and really controlled the opening 10 minutes of the game. Only strong goaltending by Halak kept the contest scoreless after 20 minutes. The Islanders gradually found their game and were actually starting to get the better of the play in the final five minutes of the opening period.
“Jaro [Halak] made some big saves out there early,” Isles’ head coach Jack Capuano said. “We mismanaged the puck there a little bit [in the first period] and you can’t do that against this team…Midway through the first, and then in the second and third, I thought we played fast and we used our speed.”
Chicago was outplayed for much of the second period, but took a 1-0 lead at 14:25 on a strange goal credited to Dan Carcillo. A shot by Carcillo bounced up in the air and then rolled off the back of Halak and into the net.
The Islanders struck back quickly, however. Cal Clutterbuck answered just six seconds later when he took advantage of a Chicago turnover and beat starter Scott Darling with a quick shot that tied the game 1-1.
“It was a big goal,” Isles captain John Tavares said. “We were playing pretty well and they scored and took the lead. When you get a response like that from a guy like Clutter, it brings a lot of energy to your team and certainly gives us a big boost. We just kept going on from that.”
The Islanders played an even stronger third period, outshooting the Blackhawks 16-8, but it was Chicago who took a 2-1 lead. Brandon Saad made a pinpoint outlet pass to Patrick Kane who beat Halak on a perfect backhander high and to the short side at 3:46.
The Islanders continued to press the play and finally broke even on a power play goal by Okposo at 10:10. Okposo pounced on a rebound from the left circle and beat Darling to even the score at 2-2.
The sellout crowd had the Nassau Coliseum rocking when Visnovsky got the game winner 51 seconds later. The veteran defenseman held the puck and skated in for a better angle before taking his shot.
“I feel awesome, it’s unreal,” Visnovsky said. “I was like, the last two or three games, same chances, same spot. This time it went in…This is important for us, especially at home. It was good for the fans. We had a full building and it was awesome.”
The Islanders didn’t give up this lead. They played strong defense the rest of the way, won key faceoffs and kept a very dangerous Chicago team at bay.
“It’s great to play a team that’s at the top of the league and go out and compete the way we did tonight and play structured,” Capuano added. “As I told the guys, we’ve got to get that attitude, we’ve got to get that swagger back and I thought tonight as the game went on, we did that. We had really good composure on the bench and great poise on the bench from our guys.”
The win improved the Islanders record to 20-10-0 and ended their three-game losing streak. The team’s confidence and swagger was back after the game.
“If we do the right things, this team can compete with anybody,” Capuano said.
No doubt his team feels the same way.
The Islanders return to action Monday night when they host the New Jersey Devils.
Eric Boulton and Brian Strait were scratches for the Islanders.
The Islanders home record is now 11-3-0 this season.
Hall of Famer Clark Gillies was honored before the game and dropped the ceremonial first puck.