When you play hockey at its highest level, there’s no way of anticipating victory. At various stages in Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Islanders endured a myriad of emotions from trailing by a multi-goal deficit in the first period to losing a one-goal lead in the waning seconds of regulation. But despite those experiences, the Isles collected an important two points with Jordan Eberle’s overtime goal capping off a 4-3 win.
“I thought we played well the whole night,” Eberle said. We created chances. Obviously, the score wasn’t leaning our way most of the game, but we stuck with it and found a way to take the lead and ultimately win. I thought we played a complete game for the most part and we had the momentum.”
The Kings trailed by a goal with thirteen seconds in the third period and desperately sought the equalizer with the empty net. Alec Martinez fired a shot from the blueline that bounced off Dustin Brown in the crease and onto the stick of Anze Kopitar who poked it through the five-hole of Greiss to send the game to the extra session. Greiss contended interference, while Doug Weight’s coach’s challenge was to no avail. During his postgame interview, Weight remained fumed by the call and the official’s decision to uphold the ruling.
“In a slow-motion picture, the puck is under Thomas’s pad. He hits the puck first, and it’s stated in our e-mail, and you wonder why I’m so upset,” Weight explained. “I thought it was a well-officiated game. Danny and Dean are good officials. Danny comes over, and I say ‘I’m not going to scream, but it was the same exact play as the one against Washington last week.’ The league should get something on a phone that all the officials see every single call. I could invent that.”
Kopitar’s goal sent the game to overtime where Eberle connected on his 13th goal of the season off a Mathew Barzal pass to beat goaltender Darcy Keumper above his glove. The Kings had a chance to complete the comeback just 17 seconds into overtime when John Tavares lost his footing on a pass intended for him that Kopitar retrieved before Greiss denied him with a pad save. The Isles would regroup and shift the momentum in their favor.
“We didn’t worry about things snowballing,” Tavares said. “We just wanted to get a win. You know you are close, but our group does a really good job of staying in the moment and not worrying about things going against them and not getting bounces or calls that don’t go for us like earlier in the week. We got ready for overtime and believed in the play of our group.”
Islanders’ goaltending faced considerable heat following a back-to-back stretch that saw Greiss and Jaroslav Halak allow a combined 11 goals against Dallas and Columbus. Greiss fell behind 2-0 in the first, but stopped 18 of 19 shots afterwards for his ninth win of the season. The Isles also showed marked improvement in their defensive game with veteran Steve Bernier replacing the demoted Josh Ho-Sang in the starting lineup. Among the noticeable adjustments were their physical play by the boards and positioning in the defensive zone.
“I liked Bernier’s game,” Weight said. “He was physical. He was knocking bodies. He takes his ice and is a nice, solid, professional hockey player. You know what you are getting out of Bernier. He battled tonight, and I thought he did a good job. Chimera and Beauvillier were really good in their roles. They have to gain their confidence fast. It was a good game for them.”
Stout defensive effort enabled the Islanders to battle back on the scoreboard with their first line contributing at a high level. Josh Bailey deflected a Calvin De Haan shot towards the end of the first period and recorded the secondary assist on a game-tying goal from John Tavares. Anders Lee added his team-best 20th goal of the season on a backhanded attempt with less than four minutes remaining in the third period to gain the lead.
“We have a lot of confidence that we can overcome these types of deficits,” Bailey said. “Tonight was no different, and we feel we had the firepower to do it, and obviously we would rather start with the lead. It’s good to have that inner-confidence as a group that we will make our way back.”
Saturday’s dramatic overtime victory against the Kings raises the Isles’ record at home to 10-2-2. Additionally, they are 27-5-5 against Western Conference opponents at the Barclays Center, where they play five of their next six games heading into the New Year. While plans regarding a new arena in Belmont made headlines in recent weeks, the Isles continue establishing a home-ice advantage in their current home in Brooklyn with increasing confidence.
“We just have a good vibe here (at Barclays Center),” Weight said. “We feel comfortable, and obviously it’s a beautiful building. Barclays has worked extremely hard to make it great for us, and I can feel the confidence on the bench. As a player, I felt that in certain buildings and we have that here and it’s a good feeling.”