Isles avert NHL cellar with OT victory
Tavares Scores and Assists on Game-Winner at Barclays Center
With the slumping Islanders on the verge of taking over sole ownership of the NHL’s worst record, their captain finally stepped up.
John Tavares snapped a nine-game goalless drought in the first period and set up the game-winner in overtime Monday night as New York pulled out a desperately needed 2-1 victory over the visiting Calgary Flames before a crowd of 10,772 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“It was about time, I’ve had some chances,” Tavares said after lighting the lamp for the first time since Nov. 3 here against Philadelphia.
“Great play by [Josh Bailey],” the two-time Hart Trophy finalist noted of the no-look setup from his linemate at the 7:28 mark of the opening stanza.
“I almost had too much time. I was able to read the goalie and pick the corner, so I’ll try to build on it.”
The win enabled the Islanders (7-10-4, 18 points) to climb into a tie with Arizona for the least amount of points in the league, rather than owning that dubious distinction all by themselves.
Tavares’ long-awaited tally didn’t come close to settling matters for an Islander team that has managed two goals or fewer in regulation in each of its last nine contests.
Goaltender Thomas Greiss did his best to make the one-goal advantage stand up before Sean Monahan knotted the contest at 1-1 just less than six minutes into the third period.
From there, the Isles scratched and clawed and dug deep, but came up empty on four power-play chances while Calgary netminder Brian Elliott stopped 25 of their first 26 shots on goal.
But 1:53 into overtime, Tavares found a cutting Thomas Hickey heading toward the net and delivered a perfect pass that Hickey tipped past Elliott, giving New York its second win in eight games.
“This was a game we had to have,” Hickey admitted, noting the frustration of an Isles fan base that was hoping for a much better start to this second season in Brooklyn after the team notched its first playoff series win since 1993 during the inaugural campaign here.
“I’m just glad with the effort that the guys put in that they were rewarded,” Isles head coach Jack Capuano added, ignoring the steady chants of fans calling for his job during this lackluster stretch.
Greiss finished with 25 saves for his second win in his last three starts, and could be back between the pipes when the Isles host the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at Barclays on Wednesday night.
“He made a lot of big saves,” Bailey said of Greiss, who was instrumental in helping the Isles end their postseason drought against Florida in the opening round of last year’s playoffs.
“He may not have had the biggest numbers for saves, but there were a lot of quality chances and he made big saves on, timely saves,” Bailey added.
New York, which has won just one of its first eight road contests, hopes to load up on some home cooking over the next few weeks.
Beginning with Monday night’s win, the Isles will play five of their next six on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, and eight of 10 here from now until the middle of December.
“We found a way to win,” Hickey said of Monday’s narrow overtime escape. “It’s something to build on.”
It had better be if the Isles hope to avoid joining the Nets as season-long also-rans in their league.
And it will be up to their captain to guide them back into the hunt for the playoffs.
“I have a lot of expectations,” Tavares insisted. “I have to make plays and produce. And lead by example.”
Isles Have Another: The Isles lost defenseman Adam Pelech to an upper-body injury in the second period Monday night, calling into question his availability for Wednesday against Pittsburgh. … Tavares, now skating on a line with Bailey and 19-year-old rookie winger Anthony Beauvillier, leads the team with six goals and 11 assists. Prior to Monday’s two-point effort, the captain hadn’t produced more than one point in a game since netting two goals and picking up an assist in a 6-3 win over Minnesota back on Oct. 23, a stretch of 15 contests. … Greiss improved to 4-4-0 this season with a 2.41 goals-against average. Primary starter Jaroslav Halak is 3-6-4 with a 3.08 GAA in 14 starts. … Capuano has remained first in his belief that the Isles will turn things around as the season progresses. “As resilient as you have to be with your work ethic, you have to have that with your attitude,” he emphasized. “Not everything in life happens the way you want it to happen, but if they keep playing that way, they’ll get some results.”
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