The Islanders headed to Winnipeg for one of their biggest games of the season, needing to take two points from a team that could very well threaten their playoff hopes should the team go into a tailspin. With the jets playing some of their best hockey of late, especially at home, it made it yet another must win game for the Islanders - but pretty much everyone up until they clinch will be, given how tight the bottom half of the East's playoff teams are.
It wasn't in the fashion we've gotten used to over the past month, but the Islanders got the job done, despite at moments it looking like the Islanders were leaving with either one or zero points.
The Islanders got off to the hot start they needed, but in general didn't do a great job with keeping up with the style of play the Jets love - the fast skating drop pass plays burned them a couple of times, and would have more if not for missing the net or an Evgeni Nabokov save here and there.
There were moments where the Islanders took a step away from the physical game they had been playing, and that's where they got into trouble. Bigger guys like Andrew Ladd and Zach Bogosian were throwing their weight around and it seemed to intimidate the Isles. This let Winnipeg get some great scoring chances in the 2nd period, which is where they usually do more of their damage.
A lot has been made of the struggles of the first line, but John Tavares and - to a lesser extent - Brad Boyes looked better than they have. It was that way in Toronto too, so if they can step up for the remainder of the road trip then the team should be OK.
As it's been for pretty much this entire streak, the line that created everything for the team was the one with Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen. They resulted in several scoring chances and even a couple of goals of their own.
The defense was a little suspect at times, and Winnipeg tried to control plays from behind the net. The thing that stood out most to me, and surprised many, was that the Isles put Brian Strait in for the game after a 29 game absence. I think Strait is a fine defender, but that's a big game to throw someone into, and the rust was evident. This was pretty obvious on Winnipeg's second goal, where Strait ended up covering the same guy Nielsen was, leaving everyone to Nabokov's left uncovered. Winnipeg scored an easy goal and ended up grabbing the momentum from that point on for the remainder of the period.
The Isles were able to take a lead, and played pretty well with it until a penalty was called on Lubomir Visnovsky. Credit to Winnipeg coach Claude Noel for make the only decision he could here: pulling his netminder with just over two minutes to go. It payed off within seconds, as Bryan Little picked up a loose puck off of a rebound and sealed the fate of the game to head to extra frames.
Winnipeg thought they won when a low shot hit the post after getting behind Nabokov, but upon further review it did not. As a matter of fact, the Jets had an even better chance seconds after that but Visnovsky actually saved the goal and kept the Isles chances of winning the game in tact.
The Islanders capitalized on that, winning the shootout 2-1 thanks to a timely moment from Tavares.
Although they gave up a point to the Jets, the Islanders walking away with two is absolutely huge. They can win Tuesday to pretty much guarantee themselves a spot in the 2013 dance. Winnipeg has three games left, one against a really tough Capitals team so the Islanders just have to take care of themselves for just a little while longer. If they get back to what's made them successful in the past couple of weeks, then there should be no issues. Just win.
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