Halak goes down, but Isles keep rising
Goalie Suffers Injury in 2-1 Win over Penguins at Barclays Center
After a near-perfect seven-game road trip that saw them maintain, if not bolster, their position in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the New York Islanders emerged victorious yet again Tuesday night in their return to Brooklyn.
But this win came at a cost.
Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves before leaving the game late in the third period with a lower-body injury, and John Tavares and Anders Lee scored power-play goals as the Islanders edged the postseason-hopeful Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1, in front of 14,724 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“We don’t have an update and hopefully we’ll know a little bit more here tonight where [Halak] stands,” New York head coach Jack Capuano revealed after his club improved to 7-1 in its last eight games and remained three points behind the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division standings.
“We were resilient at the end against a real good hockey team,” Capuano added.
Halak, who has been Capuano’s No. 1 goalie throughout the campaign despite the continued solid play of back-up Thomas Greiss, made an awkward stretch with 4:22 to play, grimacing in pain on the ice before leaving what would eventually become his 200th career victory between the pipes.
Greiss stopped three shots thereafter, and got a huge kick save from defenseman Travis Hamonic to ward off Pittsburgh’s best chance to even the contest late in the third period.
Frans Nielsen and Nick Leddy both had a pair of assists for the Islanders, who boosted their lead over Pittsburgh to five points ahead of their visit to Toronto Wednesday night.
With Halak more than likely out for the showdown with the Maple Leafs, Greiss and third-stringer Jean-Francois Berube will be dressed and ready to go.
“We knew it was an important game,” said Tavares, whose power-play tally, his 24th of the season, opened the scoring just over eight minutes into the first period. “We’re fighting to get home ice and keep climbing up the standings. Each point is crucial, each game is crucial.”
“It was a little like playoff hockey out there,” Nielsen added.
The actual playoffs will be here soon enough, but the Islanders have responded well to postseason-like pressure during this critical juncture of the campaign.
After going 6-1 on their season-high sojourn across several time zones, culminating with Sunday’s epic 6-4 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Isles knew the Penguins had plans to move closer to the coveted third spot in the Metropolitan with a win at Barclays on Tuesday.
But Lee, fighting his way into scoring position in front of the net, redirected Leddy’s shot from the point with 11:08 remaining, depositing it through the legs of Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to snap a 1-1 deadlock.
From there, Halak, Greiss, Hamonic and virtually any Islander with designs on making this inaugural season in our fair borough special did what they could to stave off the Penguins’ late rush to even up the score.
“[Halak] had some big saves,” Nielsen noted. “It wasn’t fun to see him go down like that and hopefully he’s not out for long.”
“We have three great goalies. [Berube] has a lot of potential,” added Tavares. “He hasn’t seen a lot of action, but when he’s been in there too, he’s been stellar. We’re in a position of strength there. We’re confident in all three.”
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In Toronto, the Brooklyn Nets squandered a 16-point halftime lead en route to a 104-99 loss to the Raptors Tuesday night in front of 19,800 fans at the Air Canada Centre.
Brook Lopez scored 35 points and blocked seven shots, but the Nets simply were unable to fend off the Atlantic Division leaders, getting outscored 62-41 following intermission.
“That’s a very good team,” Lopez ceded of the Raptors, who took the season series from the Nets for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
“They’re in a great position in the East, they’re definitely contending in the East and contending in the league and we had a good showing. Unfortunately they went on that huge run and we weren’t able to claw quite back into it.”
Lopez finished 13-of-17 from the floor and hit all nine of his free throws for Brooklyn, which will be in Philadelphia to take on the NBA-worst 76ers on Friday.
“He’s our horse, he’s our guy,” interim Nets coach Tony Brown said of Lopez, who also grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists. “He had a great game tonight and we try to do as much as possible to get him the ball because he’s one of the few guys who had it going. Hell of [a] game by him and it’s just unfortunate we don’t get the ‘W.’”
Nothing But Net: Though the Nets “re-assigned” former general manager Billy King last month, they still apparently believe in hiring team executives with a Blue Devil background. Trajan Langdon, a Duke alum like King, was hired Tuesday as the team’s assistant GM to Sean Marks. Langdon, who was working as director of player administration with the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, also worked with Marks in San Antonio. “We are very pleased to welcome Trajan and his family to the Brooklyn Nets,” said Marks. “Trajan is someone I worked with closely at the Spurs, and he brings a unique combination of NBA and European experience to the position. Trajan’s recent front office post with Cleveland added to his professional resume, and I want to thank the Cavs for their cooperation in this effort. The Nets look forward to Trajan’s contributions.”
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