(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
Coming into Boston on Tuesday night, the New York Islanders were riding a disappointing five-game losing streak. The most recent game hosting the Ottawa Senators on Sunday saw them in a two-goal deficit at the end of the first. While they managed to tie it in the second that was short lived before the Senators Mark Stone got a power play and the go-ahead goal. By the final horn, the Islanders were on the losing side of a 6-2 game and had notched their fifth straight loss.
Questions and comments before Tuesday’s game against the Boston Bruins focused on struggles in between the pipes for the Isles.“It’s a big part of team success throughout the league, is goaltenders getting that confidence and playing well. I just thought [Jean-Francois] Berube had a good game in Buffalo, gave us a chance, and went back with him,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said before the game. “With the three that we have now, we’ve talked about it. We obviously have to have goaltending to win hockey games. The guy that seems to be playing well, we’re just going to talk about that a little further.”
As the puck dropped in Boston, Thomas Greiss, who had last played in the Isles loss on December 15 against the Chicago Blackhawks, was the Islanders starting goaltender. Prior to the Boston game, he was 6-5-0 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. He only saw a total of 27 shots in the first two periods from the Bruins. However, the 30-year-old Fussen, Germany native would see another 23 shots in the final frame, for a career-high 50 shots on goal. He would stop all but two.
Two hundred feet opposite Greiss was the Bruins starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask, who had a 16-5-3 record with a 1.82 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. And even Capuano considered Rask a challenge before the game.
“Well, Tuukka’s obviously playing extremely well. Their power play is extremely dangerous, as we know. Their penalty kill, obviously with [Brad] Marchand and [Patrice] Bergeron on their top unit, was really good at the World Cup, really good for the Boston Bruins. Special teams and goaltending are strengths of their hockey team. They’re a structured team, they play hard, and the young kids have come up and done the job for them,” Capuano stated.
On paper it would seem that the outcome might be predictable, however, it turned out to be anything but, as the Bruins’ lackluster play and some miscommunications would see the Islanders not only on the board first off the stick of Anders Lee, but to up 2-0 a little more than two and a half minutes later, this time from Thomas Hickey, though Lee did get one of the assists. As the two teams headed to the locker rooms during the first intermission, the Islanders had kept the Bruins off the board.
Less than seven minutes into the second period, Nikolay Kulemin would get the Islanders their third marker, assisted by Johnny Boychuk, and the Bruins bench boss, Claude Julien would pull Rask and put in backup Anton Khudobin.
Khudobin would deny the Islanders for the remainder of the second period and well into the third. Despite what appeared to be a completely different Bruins team, who pummeled Greiss that last twenty minutes, the Islanders would hold onto their lead, and extend it on the power play, another from Lee, at the thirteen-minute point of that final frame, deflating a Bruins team who had become more confident after scoring their two quick goals.
For Lee, it was a three-point night with two goals and an assist. While he only got three shots on goal, two of those went in, and that really is all that matters. However, given the renewed drive of the Bruins in that final frame perhaps it was his power play goal that was most important, even though it wasn’t a game wining goal.
“We moved it around quickly and we were able to get a couple shots, and when we are able to do that it kind of spreads them out a little bit and it gets them running around,” Lee described after the game. “We were just able to get a bounce in front and off a rebound that we’ve been looking for and it was nice because we have been struggling on the power play and we needed one tonight. We were able to capitalize.”
Capitalize they did while Greiss remained strong in net. And for former Bruins Boychuk, who has returned to Boston a few times now, and Dennis Seidenberg, on his first return, it must have felt good to get the win. While they both still have friends off the ice, on ice was an entirely different story, as at least two of the three hits attributed to Bruins Adam McQuaid were on Seidenberg.
“Well it was big, especially after coming off of five losses in a row,” Seidenberg told media. “Winning this game tonight was big especially in the third period, trying to hold on to a win, or getting the win after giving up a ties or an upset. Hopefully this is a right step in the right direction and we build on that.”
The Islanders have one more game before the short holiday break. They will host the Buffalo Sabres at the Barclay Center on Friday night. It will be interesting to see if they can ride the momentum from the Bruins win into a strong game against the Sabres.
See interview with Anders Lee after the game: