Kyle Okposo Leads Isles Rally In Third, Defeat Flyers 4-3 After Shootout

The New York Islanders played host to the Philadelphia Flyers this afternoon with the hopes of earning back a win against their Metropolitan Division rivals after losing to them 6-4 on the road Saturday night. Anders Nilsson and Ray Emery were your net-minders for the Martin Luther King Jr. matinee. The contest would conclude with a 4-3 shootout victory in favor of the home crowd.

The first period saw plenty of hits and fights between both sides. Matt Carkner fought Jay Rosehill just inside the Isles blue line, resulting in a win for the Isles d-man. Just a few minutes later, Kyle Okposo would drop the mitts with Braydon Coburn inside the Flyers zone. Not many punches were thrown, but KO would get the take down, allowing the Minnesota native to be showered with USA chants as he headed to the Isles penalty box.

The Flyers would outshoot the Islanders 14-9 in the opening frame, forcing Anders Nilsson to be sharp early and often. He played aggressively in his crease and did not perform like a goaltender who hasn't played an NHL game in quite some time. Emery had to be alert as well, stopping a shorthanded breakaway from Michael Grabner.

The second period would see the Flyers take a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal by Matt Read. The Flyers forward would come in on a 2-on-1 and lift a backhand that would beat the 6'6 Islanders goaltender just over his shoulder.

John Tavares would later respond when the Isles regained the man-advantage with Scott Hartnell in the box serving a tripping minor. Just before he scored, Tavares iced the puck when looking for Thomas Vanek at the Flyers blue line. But he quickly made up for it once the Isles gained the Flyers zone. A few quick moves by Tavares would allow the puck to come right back on his tape to bury an ugly one to knot things up at one.

Both Okposo and Thomas Vanek would get the assists.

But to the Isles dismay, Wayne Simmonds would regain the lead for the Flyers after cashing in a rebound at the 13:30 mark of the second period. An Islanders power play quickly followed but did not yield the results that the Islanders needed.

With Vincent Lecavalier in the box for hooking, Tavares, Okposo and Vanek would have a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play denied by Emery's pads. The Islanders' captain would get two hacks at the puck in the crease that were both denied by the Flyers goaltender.

A few minutes later, Matt Read would score his second of the game very similarly to how he scored his first. Flying up the weak side boards, Read would snap a backhand at Nilsson that flew over his left shoulder to give the Flyers a 3-1 lead. Poor defensive zone coverage didn't help Nilsson's cause either, but one would have to think that it was a shot that should have been stopped for a goalie of his size.

But the comeback kids would find a way to tie the game in the third period much like they have done recently over the past few weeks.

Brock Nelson would score his second goal in as many games after Josh Bailey found him alone in the slot with a nice pass that came from behind the Flyers net. The goal came just as their power play expired. The secondary assist came from Cal Clutterbuck.

Then with only 2:58 left in regulation, Okposo would complete the Gordie Howe hat trick, scoring his 20th of the season. The Islanders had the man-advantage after completely dominating play in the Flyers end of the ice. Frans Nielsen would find Andrew MacDonald at the point who would then feed the puck to Okposo in the slot. The shot would carom off of his skate and into the net with KO swiping at it with his stick.

USA chants continued to echo throughout the arena.

After a lengthy review, the call on the ice would stand and the Isles officially knotted things up at three.

Overtime saw the Flyers completely own the Isles in their end of the ice with the Islanders seemingly never having possession of the puck. Due to some key saves by Nilsson, and a few major blocks in front of the Isles net, the game went to the shootout.

Nielsen was up first for the Isles and saw his patented backhand work with ease, drawing Emery down early and roofing the puck over the glove side.

The Flyers then sent out Lecavalier who slowly weaved his way up ice before being stopped by Nilsson on the stick side.

Vanek would then shoot for the Islanders and saw his snap shot get denied by Emery on the low right side of his pad.

Philadelphia then sent out their captain, Claude Giroux, who dangled the puck on his backhand and beat Nilsson high on the stick side to tie things up.

Jack Capuano would do the same and put out his captain to regain the lead in the shootout. JT carried the puck wide and would beat Emery through his five-hole. But Matt Read, who had a tremendous game for the Flyers, would beat Nilsson through his five-hole to extend the shootout into sudden death.

Kyle Okposo would come out next for the Islanders and beat Emery low on the stick side, pulling the puck swiftly from his forehand to backhand to regain the Isles lead. Sean Couturier would come up next for the Flyers and would see his shot stopped by Nilsson before crashing into the boards to help the Isles earn the 4-3 SO victory.

After the game, Jack Capuano praised Nilsson, who earned his first win in of the season. Nilsson was called upon early, particularly in the first period after the Isles were outshot 14-9. But despite only starting his fifth game of the year, Capuano thought he looked calm between the pipes.

"He did, and you know when you get a big goalie like that, you watch those goalies in the NHL, less is more, I mean there blockers, they're big, there's not a whole lot of room to shoot. He hasn't played in a while and how he responded tonight was great for us. He gave us a chance to win the game. They had 12, 13 shots in the first period, started off with a couple power plays and he was there for us. So maybe that was a good thing, he was seeing a few more shots and getting into the game."

The locker room was filled with questions regarding the Islanders' recent ability to steal games late in the third period, much to the contrary of where they were in October and November.

"I don't know if you can really pinpoint it but every game we want to come in and grind teams down," said Brock Nelson after the game. "Play in the O-zone, get pucks and bodies going to the net and just keep the game simple. Don't force plays, don't over handle things; I think we've done a good job of that lately."

When I asked Nelson if the team keeps an eye on their positioning in the standings with the playoff picture molding itself over the second half of the season, he was quick to respond that it's something the team is always monitoring.  

"Oh yeah, we know where we're at and we got a lot of divisional games coming up," he said. "This is a crucial stretch for us to try to get a push before the Olympic break and try to get ourselves in that picture. That's our goal."

A key win over a division rival after a six-game road trip is definitely a step in the right direction. Tomorrow night the Islanders head back on the road to face their biggest rivals, the New York Rangers.

-Rob McGowan

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