Second-period meltdown dooms Islanders against Minnesota
3 goals in 4-minute span takes ‘wind’ out of Isles' sails
Coming off consecutive shutout wins over their archrivals and the team they are battling for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, the New York Islanders were in position to build on their best stretch of hockey in the past month.
The Minnesota Wild had other ideas.
Matt Cullen, Jason Zucker and Tyler Ennis scored in a four-minute, 12-second span of the second period to lift postseason-hopeful Minnesota over New York, 5-3, in front of a Presidents’ Day crowd of 15,342 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
The furious flurry began eight minutes after Anders Lee had given the Islanders (29-26-6, 64 points) a 2-1 lead with his 30th goal of the season, turning the slim advantage into a 4-2 deficit that proved to be the difference on an afternoon that saw New York slip back out of the East’s second wild-card spot.
“All the wind was out of our sails after that and then they just took over [for] four or five minutes,” Lee admitted after reaching the 30-goal plateau for the second straight season.
“All of a sudden we’re trailing two, trailing one, whatever it is, and we had our backs against the wall,” he added.
Tanner Fritz’s first career tally got New York back within one before the close of the second stanza, but the Isles were unable to even the contest despite holding a 17-9 advantage in third-period shots.
“It was sort of bang, bang, bang,” Isles forward Thomas Hickey said of Minnesota’s second-period outburst.
“You try to stop it at one, instead of three goals in a row. I talked about it last week — we have to get better at the swings and the momentum of hockey games. They’re playing a good hockey game and then you go down by two.”
Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 50 shots en route to blanking the Rangers here last Thursday night, made 27 saves against the Wild, who hold the second wild card in the Western Conference.
“I think it was 4-2 them in the second and I felt like we were resoundingly the better team at that point,” Isles head coach Doug Weight said. “But we just couldn’t come back.”
Though they are still technically tied with Carolina (64 points), the team they shut out 3-0 in Raleigh on Friday behind a 45-save effort from backup netminder Thomas Greiss, the Hurricanes hold a game in hand on the Isles, giving them the edge for the coveted eighth spot.
“We played a good game, we played hard, but not good enough,” lamented Weight, who had to place Greiss on injured reserve Monday due to a lower-body injury and recall Christopher Gibson from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League.
Ross Johnston also scored for New York and Lee added an assist on Fritz’ goal, which came on a wrister than snuck past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk, who finished with 32 saves as the Isles failed to complete their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 7-15.
“[It’s] obviously very exciting. I didn’t think it was gonna take this long, but it’s been an unreal feeling, something I’ll always remember,” the 26-year-old Fritz said of the tally, which came in his 14th career NHL game.
“It’s a great moment for me … It’s nice to get the first one and hopefully more will come now.”
The loss was doubly damaging to New York’s playoff hopes as it came just prior to what promises to be the team’s most challenging stretch of the campaign.
The Isles will kick off a three-game road trip in Toronto on Thursday night and will play only once at Barclays over their next eight contests.
“If we were playing better consistent hockey throughout the year, you chalk up [this loss] as a couple of bad decisions and march on,” Weight noted. “But now that points are so paramount and important, it’s a punch in the stomach.”
Isle Have Another: Lee, who scored a career-best 34 goals last season, didn’t have much time to stew over Monday afternoon’s loss as he hosted his second annual Kancer Jam on the Nets’ practice court at Barclays. The event, which featured kids and Islander players engaging in a frisbee toss, helped raise over $100,000 for pediatric cancer research, eclipsing the amount raised in last year’s inaugural event by $10,000. “It’s just a special night,” Lee said. “To be able to raise this much money is pretty incredible, and to do it the second year in a row, it’s awesome and it’s one of those things we look to grow and get better and bigger. It’s going to go a long way for these kids with pediatric cancer and these families that are going through such difficult times. We’ll be able to help them out a lot.”
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Though they entered last weekend’s All-Star break on a season-high seven-game losing streak and are once again flirting with finishing the year with the NBA’s worst record, the Nets did score a big win during the league’s annual hiatus.
Brooklyn point guard Spencer Dinwiddie took home the trophy for the NBA All-Star Weekend Skills Competition in his hometown of Los Angeles Saturday night, edging out Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen in the final after beating Denver’s Jamal Murray and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield in the first two rounds.
“It’s big for me to even be at All-Star Weekend considering the road that’s been in my career, very up and down,” said Dinwiddie, who has climbed from G-League player to Nets starter and go-to shooter over the past 16 months.
“Obviously being in the G League both on assignment and as a G League player, thank you to the Brooklyn Nets for giving me this opportunity to play and be here. Then it all really feels and seems full circle because I got to come home and do it in front of my family.”
Dinwiddie and the Nets (19-40) will return from the break Thursday night, when they host Charlotte at the Barclays Center.