The Isles Tame The Predators With A 5-2 Win

The New York Islanders played host to their former coach Peter Laviolette and the Nashville Predators, who are currently sporting the best record in the National Hockey League. But the Islanders would prevail as the best team on the ice, battling their way to a 5-2 win at Nassau Coliseum.

The first period started with the Islanders opening up the scoring with a sizable 3-0 lead. The first goal came from Brain Strait, who received a nice pass from Frans Nielsen. Strait skated in and wristed his shot behind Pekka Rinne to give the Isles the early lead just one minute into the game. Michael Grabner contributed with the second assist on the play.

At the 10:10 mark of the period, Johnny Boychuk would send a shot from the point that would fly past everyone, including Rinne to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. Nick Leddy and Grabner were credited with the helpers.

Despite the exciting action of the first period, Mikhail Grabovski would give the Coliseum crowd a scare after taking a big hit from Eric Nystrom that prompted the Isles medical staff to retrieve a stretcher to carry him off the ice.

Grabovski was skating up ice in the Isles defensive zone with his head down and ran into Nystrom, who hit him cleanly with his shoulder. Grabovski laid motionless on the ice for quite some time, but wound up refusing the stretcher and skating off the ice on his own accord. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, but he would not return to the game.

Jaroslav Halak provided some stellar play for his club, particularly during a Predators power play after Travis Hamonic was sent to the box. Halak made some real big key saves that kept the Islanders ahead by two.

Later in the first, Colin McDonald would bait Paul Gaustad into what appeared to be a fight. But McDonald, who has done an excellent job of proving that he should remain with the Islanders and not in the AHL, decided against dropping his gloves and earned the Islanders a power play.

As a result, John Tavares would score his 29th goal of the season while with the man-advantage. Boychuk’s shot from the point was redirected on its way to the net and ended up landing right on JT’s tape. He slid the puck through Rinne’s five-hole to give the Isles a 3-0 lead.

But the Predators are the best team in the NHL for a reason, and they made sure that they wouldn’t start the second period with a 3-0 deficit. Filip Forsberg would continue his Calder candidate play by scoring his 20th goal of the season. Roman Josi and Calle Jarnkrok were credited with the assists.

With the Isles leading 3-1 after twenty minutes, the shots were actually in favor of the Predators by a tally of 17-15.

The second period didn’t see any goals from the home team, but the high paced action continued in the middle frame. Both the Islanders and Predators continued to get shots on net, particularly the Isles, who hit the post for a third time in the second period. Rinne did an excellent job of making some big saves for his team to keep them only down by two.

Halak made some highlight reel saves of his own down at the other end of the ice, but it was he who would eventually let up a goal. James Neal, who he had previously robbed with a glove save earlier in the period, would slap home a one-timer to put the Preds within one going into the third period.

But the Islanders would eventually blow it open in the third period, getting goals from Nick Leddy and Josh Bailey.

McDonald found Leddy breaking into the Islanders’ offensive zone on an odd-man rush. Leddy’s wrister would hit the pipe for the fourth time, but this time his shot went bar down and beat Rinne for his eighth goal of the year. Matt Martin had the secondary assist.

Bailey’s goal would officially put the game out of reach, and he would do it in nifty fashion. Bailey chipped the puck out of the defensive zone up to Anders Lee, who passed the puck to Tavares as he crossed the blue line. Bailey, who started the play, was seen by JT streaking up ice through the neutral zone.

The Islanders captain hit Bailey with a pass. He then deked Rinne out of position as he appeared to be circling around the net. Instead, Bailey threw the puck back in front and a Predators defenseman inadvertently smacked the puck off of Rinne and into the net.

“You always look for that insurance. One goal games, anything can happen,” said Bailey after the game. “I think they’re a great team and we just wanted to keep pressing. We didn’t want to just sit back. We wanted to play smart. I thought we did that and got rewarded.”

The locker room conversations focused primarily on how this team handled the game with a high level of maturity. Despite starting out with a three-goal lead, the Predators did force their way back into the game.

Losing Grabovski was also a challenge, prompting each forward to step up when called upon for an extra shift on a different line. But the Islanders maintained their composure and were able to seal it with a win in the third period.

“It’s nice to see those go in sometimes,” said Tavares in reference to Bailey’s goal.  “He’s such a big guy, Rinne, in net and Bails did a great job out-waiting him. It kind of just rolled off his stick. He got a little help, but we’ll take it.”

As it stands now, the Islanders sit tied for first place in the Eastern Conference after beating the best team currently in the NHL.

-Rob McGowan

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