Islanders Declaw Panthers With Spirited Home Win

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UNIONDALE, NY–Bracket off all the facts, statistics, realities,  and critiques that preceded this seemingly innocuous sporting event between two young and struggling teams.

Rather, concentrate on the notion that last night a hockey game was played on Long Island.  One game. Two teams. Nothing at stake except pride and an opportunity to play a sport endeared by all present.

On April 1st, 2014 the New York Islanders played one of their most impressive home games this season, simply because they put forth a valiant and concerted effort during the last 40:00 of the evening.

The Islanders may have disappointed many with their failure at making the postseason after having done so not more than 11 months ago, but tonight these young boys, these NHL hopefuls, played as a team, hit like a team, and scored like one.

Two Colin McDonald shot attempts were scooped up and buried by two separate Islander forwards, Josh Bailey (7) and Matt Martin (8), both coming in the second period, giving New York a lead they would never relinquish. Bailey would have a multiple-point game, as he would assist in Travis Hamonic‘s 3G of the season that tied it early in the 1st–a period that saw the Islanders at their sloppiest and most lackadaisical.

So yes, the Islanders are young, but they are also injured. But the Panthers are just plain young, and it showed on every shift after the Isles tied it.

And McDonald proved to be the Islanders lightning rod, and with help from a feisty and inspired Ryan Strome–who opened up shop behind Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen‘s net for a vast majority of the night–helped New York propel passed a befuddled Panthers squad.

An opportunistic Strome saw the loose puck squirt to the left of Clemmensen into the corner, he would then feed McDonald a nifty pass in traffic, which was then shot point blank, resulting in a quick rebound that Bailey slipped past and buried behind the Panthers’ netminder for the Isles go-ahead notch.

The Panthers were held to 13 SOG through 2 periods, which included two PP opportunities in the second. They would capitalize on Matt Donovan‘s fumble on the blueline during the Isles first PP of the night, as Quinton Howden scored his 4th, shorthanded, on the resulting breakaway.  But that was all the offense Florida could muster until 3 seconds before the final horn.

New York youth versus Florida’s and the Empire State showed more muscle and more fight.

Speaking of which, Matt Carkner partook in two truly gutsy scraps that proved to be the momentum augmenter, the one against defenseman Erik Gudbranson was particularly one-sided as Carkner landed jab after jab from both sides. Perhaps Carkner’s best game as an Islander to date, in all honesty. He played tough away from the puck, avoided the bad penalty, and used his body to change and/or maintain team energy, making most of his 10+ of TOI.

Kevin Czuczman went about his business, raking up 22:00 TOI with 2 S, using the body responsibly and thoroughly, finishing his checks and watching his marks. Anders Lee continues to roll, this time contributing in the Hits department with 4. Casey Cizikas with an impressive FO win percentage–80%–proved to be the most critical component to the Isles tempered control of the game once the lead was established.

But Cal Clutterbuck was the most important Islander that wasn’t Colin McDonald and Ryan Strome, as his 7 H and 6 S led all Islanders last night.

And lastly there was first-star recipient Mike Halmo, who scored his first NHL goal and obtained his first NHL point at the 4:21 mark of the 3rd period. Halmo broke in on the high left slot area, let go a shot that rebounded back to him mid-air, which forced the young forward to swat at it, resulting in a top shelf goal, a place where apparently our mothers hide certain foods that shouldn’t be eaten before dinner.

Cookies, I think they call them these days.

The Florida Panthers, and for that matter the New Jersey Devils as well, proved that the Islanders may be inexperienced but not talentless, and they’re not laying down as some may have feared.

Something coach Jack Capuano said during his postgame presser captured that which was missing all season long, sans last night: the Islanders won the “game within the game.” Poignantly summarized by the Isles bench general is the one aspect of the game that separates a playoff bound team with those who watch the postseason from home: the ability to simplify, codify, and redefine a game that seemingly gets out of hand.  Many nights have Isles fans seen leads fade, and fewer nights like last night’s where the lead is captured and kept.

Winning the ‘game within the game’ means that Josh Bailey takes a bad penalty and then finds a way to get a point, be it an assist and/or goal. Or that Colin McDonald and his linemates regroup in the locker after the first and take heed to their coach’s stern advice to up their battle level and do so by playing tough along the greasy areas.

To win the overall game, you have to win the smaller game; the game within.

There’s no way to sugar coat what transpired at the Coliseum this season. ‘Twas a brutal year to say the very least, but wins like this tend to nestle deep within a true Islander fan’s heart, and serve as fuel to keep the flame of fandom lit until next season comes along.

Good win for the boys in blue and orange. Good win.

–RD (@rdnhl)

 

POSTGAME SNIPPETS

  •  Mike Halmo

  • Josh Bailey

  • Coach Jack Capuano

 

 

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