January 22, 2014

Another Game, Another two goal Comeback for Isles - This Time vs. Rangers

If there's one really positive thing we can say about the way this Isles team is playing right now, it's that they never panic when they get down early in games.

Once again, the Isles found themselves in a very familiar position, and once again much to the chagrin of Sean it happened early on in the first period. But after less than stellar defensive plays by Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan and John Tavares allowed Chris Kreider get control of the puck and find a wide open Rick Nash, there was no doubt he was scoring and the Isles were going to be chasing from behind early once again.

Despite controlling the play it was Nash who scored again, this time on a breakaway thanks to Dan Girardi faking out Andrew MacDonald and finding his man. Kevin Poulin did all he could on the attempt but Nash slid it just under the toe of his pad, blocker side. We've seen Nash do this move time and time again throughout the years.

While one would think a team playing the Rangers would be freaking out right about now, that's not at all the mode the Isles were in. Despite a hot team getting off to a fast start thanks to one of their hottest players in recent days, the Islanders battled back and began the slow but steady climb back into the game.

I liked the fact that they tested Cam Talbot from all angles, and really got a sense for where his and the Rangers' weak spots were. Late in the period the Isles were able to capitalize on this when Tavares was behind the net and found Matt Martin streaking down the middle. Any time a role player scores it seems to bring emotions up, and for Martin it was his first goal in a long time. So it added something to this one.

The sweet spot for the Isles was right around the net and in the slot area, and each one of their goals came there. After Kreider got a bounce to go his way, the Isles regrouped and Kyle Okposo made a fantastic pass to Thomas Hickey, who's been pinching at all the right times lately to help the Isles score some timely goals or generate some great scoring chances. It looked exactly like the play Brock Nelson scored on against the Flyers on Monday afternoon.

The Isles didn't let the momentum go to waste, and with the Rangers on their heels the Islanders pounced just three minutes later, when Tavares took an errant pass back the other way, getting a strong shot in on Talbot causing him to leave a rebound right in the slot. Colin McDonald showed great strength in corralling the puck and turning around to fire a shot high into the net and the game was tied, letting the Isles contingent in the stands (and there seemed to be a lot of them) hoot and holler at their team creating yet another comeback effort.

Some fortunate things have happened to the Isles during this run, and they had some more luck with time ticking down in the third and some tired legs on the ice for a shift. As Tavares carried the puck up center ice, the Rangers were going for a change and Tavares threw the puck towards Kreider who played it just before his man could get on the bench. Was this JT's intention? I think it absolutely was. This was no accident. It appears to be a heads up play by a captain who noticed a lazy change by the opponent and saw an opportunity to give his team an advantage that worked. Most of the time this is a penalty that will get called and it was a no doubter.

The Isles cashed in on the man advantage, the Tavares and Thomas Vanek connection coming through once again. All it took was the Isles needing to hold off the Rangers in the final couple of minutes, and thanks to Poulin they did. As a matter of fact it was pretty much all him as the Isles had trouble maintaining possession and were unable to get the puck out of the zone to get any line changes in. Frans Nielsen finally iced the game for the Isles to seal the comeback.

This is the kind of win I was looking for. Some of you might have noticed me droning on in prior posts about needing quality wins against your own division, and now in two straight games the Isles have done that while coming back from down two goals.

Just being five points out of the playoffs right now is big, despite the fact the Isles have played more games than most of these other teams. Columbus has been on a tear lately and is the team currently in the cross hairs. If the Isles can continue to have quality outings against division opponents it'll be their best path back into the playoff mix. They'll have their next shot against a rival in Pittsburgh, although it's not as important as the Flyers and Rangers of the world since it's unrealistic to think anyone in the division can really catch the Pens by this point. But it's a team the Isles can handle well, and have held their own against this season and if they have another strong showing it could bring in another two huge points.

I'd settle for one.

- Chris

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