New York Islanders Get Away With One Against the New Jersey Devils

The New York Islanders stole a 3-1 road victory over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center Monday night. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but the Islanders showed that despite occasional defensive lapses and a lackluster overall effort in the second period, they were able to get a winning result against their division rivals.

In fact, it would almost be fair to categorize the replay of this game as NSFW.

Playing in front of a sold-out crowd at The Rock, the Islanders continued their stretch of solid play on the road this season, even if they aren’t concerned with style points. New York improved to 11-5-1 overall away from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, proving once again that they’re capable of winning games in hostile environments.

Isles left winger Josh Bailey opened the scoring at 0:52 of the first period, sliding a backhander past Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur after a nifty bit of tic-tac-toe passing from his teammates.

Starting behind his own goal, defenseman Thomas Hickey wired an outlet pass to Kyle Okposo, who was stationed at center ice between the team benches. Okposo one-touched it to a streaking Frans Nielsen, breaking into the offensive zone alongside Bailey. Nielsen lifted a saucer pass to Bailey who put a nice deke on the Brodeur to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead early.

It doesn’t take NHL analyst-level insight to understand that getting on the board early – especially on the road – greatly improves a team’s chances of winning. After Bailey’s goal, the Isles were on their way to a victory and they would not look back.

Okay, maybe they gave a quick glance over their collective shoulder.

New York kept the pressure on their opponents throughout the first period, scoring again at the 7:14 mark on a Travis Hamonic wrister from just inside the blue line. Brodeur was screened on the shot and couldn’t recover as he moved to his right, only to see the puck flutter by him at the last second.

The ice was still tilted towards the Devils goal when Tom Kostopoulos challenged Matt Martin to a fight that wasn’t much of a bout. Martin knocked Kostopoulos down with a punch to the chin that sent him to the ice, dazed. Before Martin could be escorted to the penalty box, he waved for the Devils training staff to attend to Kostopoulos; despite basically knocking his opponent out, Martin displayed good sportsmanship there.

The second period almost proved to be the Islanders’ undoing, however. The Devils controlled the pace of play and had the majority of the scoring chances in the second frame, tallying a goal to halve the Islanders’ lead.

Patrik Elias blew by the Isles defense and found Alexei Ponikarovsky at the goal mouth to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Islanders at 8:01, finally rewarding the team that had worked hardest in the period.

For the duration of the second period, nearly all of the action took place in New York’s defensive zone. Seemingly the only time Isles fans could exhale was during the television time outs, as New Jersey was relentless in pursuing a second goal to tie the game.

Fortunately for the Isles, NHL periods are only 20 minutes long. The second intermission provided a welcome respite from the Devils attack, although the first half of the third period favored the Devils as well.

The Isles looked flat coming out of the break and for much of the first 10 minutes, which may or may not be surprising to their fans, considering the magnitude of the game.

No Islanders fan is comfortable watching this team play with a lead; it seems that they play their best hockey when they’re tied or chasing a goal or two. “Scrappy” might be too cliché a term, but that style of hockey suits the Isles best.

With a chance to gain sole possession of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference – pending the result of the New York Rangers game – the Isles found a way to grind out a win, even if it cost their fans a few fingernails in the process.

John Tavares, invisible for the majority of the game, announced his presence on the power play – as he so often does – in the third period. Tavares was on the receiving end of a seeing-eye pass from Lubomir Visnovsky that was deflected by Brodeur’s goal stick; waiting on the edge of the right-wing faceoff circle, Tavares buried a snap shot at 9:13 of the third period that gave the Isles some breathing room at 3-1.

The Islanders power play has been dominant on the road this year, despite a recent stretch of 1-for-19 over their last six road games prior to tonight’s contest.

Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov made the score line stand up, making several key saves down the stretch and notching his 17th win of the season. As has been said many times before, Nabokov is this team’s iron man, as he’s been in net for all of New York’s wins this season.

The Isles aren’t known for playing pretty and tonight’s game was a prime example. They might leave New Jersey feeling a bit lucky to have gotten the win – considering how they took the second period and most of the third off – but at least they’re still in contention for a playoff spot in April.

Islanders fans haven’t had the chance to see a postseason race up close since 2006-07. This might be the year they’re treated to another playoff berth, provided their team can keep finding ways to win games.

Even if those games aren’t the easiest to watch.

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Be sure to follow @TCLIsles on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Islanders news and notes, and ‘Like’ The Checking Line – Isles Edition on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @MichaelWillhoft or shoot me an email at michael.willhoft@gmail.com