UNIONDALE, N.Y. — After ending their worst losing skid of the season in New Jersey on Saturday, the New York Islanders were trying to stop a couple more streaks at the Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday night.
They were hoping to dump a season-long home slump while ending the Minnesota Wild’s franchise-best road winning stretch, and were less than nine minutes from accomplishing both feats at once.
That’s when the Islanders’ old nemesis, left winger Zach Parise, got the Wild’s only score of regulation before adding a lone shootout goal to give Minnesota (45-25-7) its 10th straight road win, 2-1, while handing New York (44-25-5) its fifth condecutive home loss.
Following more than 35½ minutes with a goal or a penalty, neither team took advantage of the game’s only power plays and sole penalties, as neither a tripping call on Islander defenseman Thomas Hickey (with 4:28 left in the second period) nor a holding penalty on Wild center Mikael Granlund (four seconds after Hickey’s penalty expired) yielded any scoring.
However, just as New York’s power play ended, center John Tavares (who had eight shots on net, at least four more than anyone else) scored the Islanders’ only goal — his team-leading 34th of the year — with 23.7 seconds left in the stanza, as he started and finished the scoring play.
Faking a shot from the left circle, Tavares set up right winger Kyle Okposo, who was stopped in front by goaltender Devan Dubnyk (37 saves). Center Anders Lee pushed the puck toward the net, where Tavares, who had come around the back of the cage after passing to Okposo, was able to lift the puck over Dubnyk’s outstretched left leg.
Dubnyk made sure that was the only goal New York would get as he made one brilliant stop after another to lift Minnesota, which moved to an NHL-best 24-6-2 — including 14-1-2 on the road — all with Dubnyk as a starter since the talented goalie was acquired on Jan. 15, via trade with Arizona, just before the All-Star break.
“We wanted to build on Saturday,” Tavares said dejectedly. “It’s just disappointing. We weren’t finding the net as frequently as we’d like, especially with the chances we were generating. We’ve just got to stay with it. Obviously, you lose in a shootout, it can go either way sometimes… I thought we outplayed them [and] were the better team tonight… [but] Dubnyk was very good.”
Head coach Jack Capuano added, “I thought we played pretty solid… it was a good hockey game from start to finish. We had our chances, and [Dubnyk] came up big for [Minnesota].”
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk said, “We’re doing good things, and with some luck, [the puck is] gonna go in. You just have to bear down on your opportunities and put the puck in the net.
“It’s nothing that they did. It was more [that] we didn’t capitalize on our opportunities. Dubnyk played well, and he has been playing well since coming to Minnesota. You just have to solve [good goaltenders] and we haven’t been [doing that] lately.”
Jumping on the travel-weary Wild, which won in Toronto one night earlier, seven different Islanders attempted shots on net before Minnesota took one 6:32 in, as New York significantly controlled the play and held a 14-2 shot advantage after 11:38.
“They did a good job of recognizing that [with] the travel… we were probably gonna be on our heels or a little bit flat, and they jumped all over us,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “The buzzer couldn’t come quick enough [at the end of] that first period, but once we weathered that storm, I think we felt pretty good.”
Praising Dubnyk in general, and particularly on helping the Wild survive the Islanders’ early onslaught, Yeo said, “He’s a competitor. He was outstanding. He was obviously a huge part of that.”
Noting the great run Dubnyk has been on, Yeo spoke of his goaltender in transcendent terms, saying, “He deserves to be talked about and he’s not only a great story for us, and certainly for him, but for the game.”
Yeo was also pleased with the resolve his tired club showed.
“We got in at 3 o’clock in the morning [from Toronto]… and [we were] playing against a great hockey team,” he said. “So to find a way to come back and win a game after being down after two periods, that’s a huge two points. What we do well right now is we put our previous results behind us and we get ready for our next challenge.”
Having survived New York’s early charge, the Wild had three of the final five shots of the first period, was even with Islanders in shots during the second period (12-12) and in overtime (3-3), and held a 12-7 shot advantage while having the better of the play for much of the third frame.
Coming off of a 3-0 win in New Jersey, goaltender Jaroslav Halak (32 saves) stopped his first 26 shots. The last of those was a close attempt by Parise, who is in his second season with Minnesota after spending his first six years in the league with New York’s divisional and area rival, the New Jersey Devils.
Staying with a rebound, Parise put the next shot into an empty, for his 29th goal of the season, with 8:15 to go in regulation, as he was pushed from behind and fell into the net after he scored.
Yeo noted, “I had a talk with Zach before the game and you could tell he was fired up. He was ready to go. I thought his work ethic and his attitude throughout the entire course of the game was unbelievable.
“[His second-period] goal was a typical Zach goal… it was relentless. The first [shot] doesn’t go in, but it’s his relentlessness along with his skill that makes him so special.”
Parise’s goal was the first allowed by the Islanders in 130:48, their longest such streak since New York opponents went 188:48 between goals over a four-game span that included consecutive shutout victories over Arizona and Colorado, each with Halak in net.
Center Brock Nelson nearly regained the lead for the Islanders on the first shot of the third period, when he impressively put the puck between the legs of defenseman Matt Dumba, before Dubnyk saved Nelson’s nice backhand attempt, 1:19 into the stanza.
A little over two minutes later, a dangerous puck squirted through the crease and barely wide of the right post, to Halak’s left, to keep the score tied.
As well as Dubnyk played, Halak had his moments too, the best of which came when Parise streaked up the left side and made a perfect centering pass to right winger Jason Pominville, who was denied by a terrific sliding stop by Halak, to his left.
In overtime, Halak stopped a drive from the right circle by left winger Thomas Vanek, who along with right winger Nino Niederreiter, has been keying a playoff push for wild-card leading Minnesota (91 points in the Western Conference). Vanek was an Islander last season and Niederreiter, the same from 2010-12.
Earning their 93rd point of the season in defeat, the Islanders, who honored Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine before the game, moved within six points of the first-place New York Rangers, while staying two points ahead of second-place Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.
“Every point’s important coming down the stretch here,” Okposo said. “We’ve just got to keep playing our game, keep worrying about ourselves and try to keep playing our best going into the postseason.
“I thought in all facets of the game, we were pretty good. We didn’t give up a whole lot of Grade A chances… and I like the way we were skating tonight. I thought we got back to the way we were skating earlier in the season.”
Each team was stopped in front later in the extra session before Tavares poked the puck away for a turnover in the Wild’s zone. Defenseman Ryan Strait immediately got the puck to Tavares, whose hard shot from the right circle was barely deflected over the glass and into the netting with 1:39 remaining in overtime.
Center Frans Nielsen, Okposo and lastly, Tavares, were all turned aside by Dubnyk, as was center Mikko Koivu — by Halak — in the shootout. But on Minnesota’s second attempt, Parise got a break when his shot hit the left post before caroming off of Halak’s right skate and just over the goal line before Halak could reach back and prevent the game-winner.
Before the Wild can try to continue its winning ways away from home with a season-ending three-game road trip, Minnesota will return back to its home ice for a five-game homestand.
New York will conclude a four-game homestand with three home games in four days, beginning with a game on Thursday night against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who defeated the Rangers on the road on Tuesday night to get within two points of Winnipeg for the final wild-card spot in the West.
Reflecting on the prospect of continuing a recent trend of playing against some of the NHL’s top goaltenders when Kings’ star Jonathan Quick visits the Coliseum, Capuano said, “Just look at who we’ve faced over the last two weeks. It ain’t gonna get any easier on Thursday night.”
The Islanders, who have lost five of their past six games overall, while totaling just eight goals, will try to regain their once-strong advantage at the Coliseum, where New York is just 6-8-1 after starting the season 17-4 at home.
“I don’t think home ice advantage means that much this time of year,” Yeo said. “You see teams go on the road and win big games.”
Frustrated by the Islanders’ lack of scoring lately, yet still very hopeful, Capuano said, “As a coach, you’d like to see guys score and get more points… from my standpoint, I want to make sure we’re fundamentally sound and do the right things, because if we do those things, we’re going to give ourselves a chance. If we don’t do those things, we have no chance of winning in this league.”
Equally optimistic, Boychuk, who isn’t concerned over his team’s slide at home, said, “You have to just keep playing the way that you can. The playoffs are coming up, and you just have to keep playing that way every night, and good things will happen.”