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Islanders-Kings: Down the Stretch With a Win

By Stan Fischler
February 11, 2012

Although February has yet to reach its half-way mark, the playoff race is so confoundingly tight that even so early in the homestretch a game on Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum between the Islanders and Kings takes on “must proportions.”

In this case, the “must” must be attached to the home club which is struggling to accomplish two primary objectives: 1. Get back to the .500 mark – which was one win away pre-game – and; 2. Launch a streak to haul the Nassaumen into the playoff hunt.

On this day, the result was positive as the Islanders triumphed 2-1 in overtime on captain Mark Streit’s daring overtime rush, beating ace goalie Jonathan Quick at 1:36 of the extra session.
Michael Grabner opened the scoring in the first period for the home club.

“These two points are enormous,” said Streit. “It was a fast-paced game and we played tough.”

It also was a gutsy game that required playoff-type hockey from beginning to end.

“Our guys hung tough,” said coach Jack Capuano, “and we got special goaltending.”

Evgeni Nabokov was extraordinary from beginning through the OT and merited the first-star of the game.

“We needed these two points big-time,” said Nabokov, who added that he hoped to start the 3 p.m. matinee against Florida on Sunday.

Cappy refused to disclose his goaltending choice but the odds are on Nabby’s side.

From the opening faceoff, Challenge One for the Isles was to prevent a first-shot-first-goal from the opposition; a trend that has torpedoed them too often this season.

The antidote to that was for the home club to score first and that they did, courtesy of Grabner, who tallied his fifteenth goal, thanks to defenseman Mark Eaton whose original shot opened the play.

Playing with a one goal lead proved advantageous for Capuano’s skaters at first as they seized the momentum, but couldn’t beat Quick for a second time in the opening frame.

By the mid-point and thereafter, the Isles lead turned to precarious as the visitors time and again penetrated the New York zone and only barely escaped the first twenty minutes with a one-goal advantage, thanks to Nabokov’s alert goaltending.

Clearly, a change of strategy and momentum was in order for the Nassaumen if they were going to maintain their advantage.

For Islanders fans, the second period was a case of Anxiety 101 as the hosts continually relinquished puck control and eventually were done in by the Kings.

With less than six minutes gone by Andrei Loktionov tied the count after Nabokov made the original save on defenseman Rob Scuderi’s blue line blast. Uncovered by the Isles defense, Loktionov’s deflection from Dustin Brown’s shot was deposited over Nabby’s left pad.

For the rest of the middle frame it was a question of whether Nabokov could thwart the Kings repeated assaults. Over and over again, his mates lost puck control in the defensive zone, especially in the final seconds, but the period ended with clubs still tied at one.

Entering the final frame, the question was whether or not the Isles could significantly tighten their defense and somehow find a way to penetrate Quick.

The Islanders received a scare early in the third period when Matt Martin checked Trevor Lewis in the Kings zone as Martin’s chin hit off the lip of the boards. Martin, unable to get up on his own power, was helped off the ice by his teammates, but returned mid-way through the period.

“As soon as I went off the ice,” explained Martin, “I wanted to get back on but they had me wait a bit.”

Both goalies made timely saves for their respective teams as the third period expired.

“Our overtime strategy was to keep the puck away from them as much as possible,” said Capuano, “and look for a break. Our captain got it for us.”

At 1:36, Streit skated around both defensemen Alec Martinez and Matt Greene before firing a backhander through Quick’s “five-hole.”

“This win means a lot,” concluded Nabokov. “But we have to be ready for the Panthers.”

Capuano said his hope against Florida is that his players reduce the number of giveaways which almost cost them a pair of points on Saturday.

“We’ll have to play better,” said Martin, “because it feels like the playoffs right now!”

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