NEW YORK— Handing a point to a division rival is a steep price for busting any player out of a slump.
But Islanders coach Scott Gordon said it’s a trade-off he’ll gladly take after Kyle Okposo pushed a shot that hit off Marc Staal and past Henrik Lundqvist for game-winner in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers on Saturday night.
Okposo capped a three-point evening by scoring his
first goal in 19 games to snap the Rangers four-game winning streak. Dwayne Roloson posted 36 saves while Frans Nielsen and Blake Comeau also scored to help the Islanders win for the second straight game.
“His work ethic is second to none our team,” Gordon said regarding Okposo’s slump-busting goal 4:13 into overtime. “He’s been making some plays that is giving other players opportunities to score goals.”
Okposo scored a team-leading 18 goals in his first full season in the previous campaign but tallied just his sixth goal when his right-point shot beat Lundqvist stick-side. His shot quieted the Madison Square Garden crowd as teammates rushed off the bench to greet him.
“Something I pride myself on is never giving up and knowing that it’s [goal-scoring] going to come and just keep playing well,” Okposo said. “It’s something I have to do for my team.”
Olympic team selections are also close to being finalized, giving Okposo a chance to impress the Team USA staff. The 21-year-old winger said he would relish the chance to play for his country but insisted he is not worried about making the cut. Okposo has 26 points in 38 games.
“Hopefully I’ll hear my name called but it’s not up to me and I’ll try to keep my mind off it until then,” Okposo said. “I feel like I’ve played pretty well and it’s not up to me anymore.”
Brandon Dubinsky scored two clutch third-period goals to force overtime, including a backhand rebound goal with 46.6 seconds remaining in regulation to salvage a point for the Rangers.
The Islanders won two out of the three games against the Rangers in an eight-day span, including both wins at the Garden. Yet the Blueshirts (40 points) still own an advantage over the Islanders (37) in the Atlantic Division.
The Rangers erased a two-goal deficit in third, out-shooting the Isles, 15-5. Lundqvist finished with 18 saves to help the Blueshirts pick up points in six of the last seven games (4-1-2).
“The way we came back with that lead, it always feels really good to at least get a point,” Lundqvist said.
The Rangers ended Roloson’s bid for his first shutout this season when Dubinsky scored 6:07 in. His goal from the left post tied it with less than minute left, marking his sixth goal this year. It was his first two-goal game since Oct. 3 against Ottawa.
Okposo entered with just one assist in last six games but ignited the Islanders offense, assisting on the first two goals for his first multi-point game since a two-assist showing against Boston Dec. 12.
Josh Bailey and Okposo, two former first-round draft picks, entered on cold streaks but turned in crisp passing plays to facilitate Nielsen’s game-opening tap-in goal 7:45 into the first.
Bailey, who logged just one assist in his past 11 games, raced to a dump-in behind the Rangers net and fired a pass to Okposo before the winger turned and hit an open Nielsen with a spinning lateral backhand feed. Nielsen pushed in the puck from the left post for his sixth tally.
Okposo’s three-points represented a season-high and earned him the team’s replica hard-hat Islanders players give to their selected most valuable player after a win.
electricity, is elsewhere inside. Entire them was t since.
you go through a situation he’s been going through, you start to press,” Roloson said. “I was telling him just get shots on net. Sooner or later they’ll go in.
“He’s a good player and it’s good for our team for him to start scoring. It’s only going to allow us to have greater success.”
The Islanders sputtering power play unit failed to even register a shot on its first three chances. Gordon’s team is 1 for 30 with the extra man in the last seven games.
But the Isles still capitalized on an extra-man situation, torching the Rangers for Comeau’s shorthanded marker 14:21 into the second period.
Like the opening goal, Okposo registered the primary assist. As Michael Del Zotton and Ales Kotalik overcommitted along the bench-side boards on a Rangers power play, Okposo chipped the puck to an open Comeau, who raced in alone before sliding a point-blank shot past Lundqvist for a shorthanded goal.
“That’s just Kyle battling,” Gordon said. “It’s just hard work and second effort and anyone who is an Islander fan knows about that. And he does it in all situations.”
Comeau’s fourth goal came one game after he added an empty net goal in the Islanders previous win against Toronto. Comeau scored just two goals in his first 21 games this season.
“I was too aggressive there,” Lundqvist said about Comeau’s short-handed marker. “I should have been patient there and waited on him. I made the first move and I lost.”
Notes: The holiday spirit didn’t extend much beyond the opening faceoff when Bruno Gervais, who entered with just 10 penalty minutes in 32 games, engaged Sean Avery in a rare fight that drew the Islanders first power play 2:28 in. Avery was tagged with an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty…Weather conditions prevented referee Dean Morton making it to the arena for the first period, giving the game a throwback feel with just one referee working with two linesmen. Morton was on the ice for the second period.