January 22, 2012

Tavares, Nabokov Star as Isles Win Third Straight

John Tavares and Evgeni Nabokov are both playing like men on missions right now, and they are single-handedly trying to bring the Islanders back into playoff contention.

So far, so good. The Islanders have picked up a number of points over the past two weeks behind strong play from both, and currently sit eight points out of the picture with 36 games remaining.

Just as they did for their game against these same Carolina Hurricanes a couple of weeks ago on the road, the Islanders did not have a great effort early on. The Hurricanes, coming off of a road game the previous night in Washington, appeared to be the better team.

The Islanders, perhaps realizing the importance of this game, came out a lot better in the second period, and had a few good shifts to start. While they took 23 shots in the frame, they were only able to get one puck past Cam Ward as Tavares lifted a rebound in the slot area over Ward. With the goal, Tavares extended his points streak to an NHL best 12 games. The Isles pressed a number of times, but Ward would make many spectacular saves.

Both Ward and Nabokov gave up their fair share of rebounds. It's how both of them have played the game for years. There were plenty of risky ones, but each made some special saves to keep the score 1-1 for a period and a half.

Nabokov came up bigger of the two though, making two stops on breakaways. His only mistake was misplaying a rebound in the slot, that was whiffed on by Milan Jurcina and picked up by Jeff Skinner. As has normally been the case through the Isles winning streak though, Nabokov settled down.

Tavares would end up being the go to guy once again, notching his second goal of the game in OT after taking a shot on Ward and batting his own rebound out of the air and past him. It was his 19th goal of the season.

While the Islanders defensive effort wasn't as good as we saw in the previous games, they did tighten up a bit after a very loose start, and Nabokov did the job that he had to do. They had their share of chances on Ward, who was equal to the task.

More importantly, for a team with hopes of jumping back into the playoff race, they won a game that was an absolute must. They had a strong performance for the second half of the game, in front of a decently large crowd - in a snowstorm no less! - that was pumped from the start given their recent performances. And they hung on to every shot, save and goal like this was an actual playoff game.

I understand that most of these games are 'must haves' by this point, but given the fact that the past week and a half saw the Isles defeat Buffalo, Washington and Philadelphia - the latter two on the road - the Islanders need to take this positive momentum into the all-star break.

Now, two very tough games where the Isles MUST get three of four points out of. They will first travel Monday night into Toronto before coming home for the second part of the home-and-home with them. The Maple Leafs have fallen on tough times of late, and are coming off of a 3-1 loss at home to Montreal. The Islanders are currently seven points behind 9th seeded Toronto.

Al Montoya is back now, and it's expected he'll start very soon. After these games against Toronto, the Islanders will have a week off before taking on Carolina on the road once again. I'm assuming he'll get one of the games against Toronto, although given the way Nabokov has handled his recent workload it's hard to argue against him. The only thing not in his favor is the number of shots he's seen.

But first things first. The Isles have a job to do, and that's to get three of these points from Toronto.

As usual, we went live on Sunday morning. Catch up with what you missed on the NYI FYI uStream page.



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