Nilsson And Okposo Help Isles Blank Devils

It is still a long shot, but the Islanders have once again pulled themselves into playoff conversation with a 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. Kyle Okposo scored the lone goal for the Isles while Anders Nilsson earned his first NHL win with a 24-save shutout performance that earned him first star honors on the night. 

"Today I think all the guys out there put up a great job for me," said Nilsson. "The first two periods, I only had 12 shots and they blocked a lot of shots and when they got a shot through it was from the boards. They made it real easy for me to play out there today. They helped me out a lot."

Okposo concurred with Nilsson's belief that the Islanders played one of their best defensive games of the year, rivaling their previous defensive win over the Boston Bruins yesterday afternoon. (Photo Credit via Stacy Rae Podelski's YouTube video)

"I thought we played really well defensively. We blocked a fair amount of shots and we didn't give up a whole lot of second and third chances and the ones we did give up he [Nilsson] was there to go."

The first period went without scoring, but the Islanders quickly established the play by earning a power play when Bryce Salvador received a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck into the crowd. The Islanders peppered Martin Brodeur, who came up big throughout the game, but even then came close to getting an early lead. John Tavares ended up hitting the crossbar after walking in alone from the corner while several other shots saw the Devils' defense scrambling. They also struggled to clear the puck, having it caught at the blue line on more than one occasion. This would set the tone for the rest of the game as the Devils' passing ended up getting broken up fairly often or were simply misfired in all three zones. The home team was creating a lot of turnovers for the opposition with their fore check and ended up out shooting the Devils 10-6 by the end of the first twenty minutes. 

The second period saw the Devils get involved in more penalty trouble. Zach Parise would take a tripping minor at 9:44 with teammate Ryan Carter already serving a hooking minor, giving the Islanders a two-man advantage. The Islanders had a ton of scoring chances but Brodeur continued to impress, making save after save. 

However, with the Islanders only up five men to the Devils four with Carter out of the box, Matt Moulson would be the recipient of a blatant high-stick by the opposition. There was no call and the official basically just dismissed Moulson for protesting as blood poured down his chin, forcing him to go to the Isles locker room for stitches. Later in the game, P.A. Parenteau would get a slash on his right hand, forcing him to ice it on the bench and come out of the play early. After watching a bad "non-call" go in the Islanders favor yesterday in Boston, along with all of the other mindless gaffes that referees and linesman have been responsible for this year, it is safe to say that this is possibly one of the worst officiated seasons in the NHL in a long time, but I can go on about that a different day. 

Kyle Okposo would eventually break the scoring drought at 2:39 of the second period after Casey Cizikas worked the puck to him after grinding it out along the wall. KO shrugged off the defender and continued to power his way for a quick snap shot that beat Brodeur for his 15th goal of the season. Cizikas' assist would be his third NHL point in six games played this year with the Islanders. His strong play has impressed many, suggesting that he belongs at the NHL level next year on a full-time basis. He also was tonight's third star of the game.

"Yeah you know what, the first two games out there, they were a little bit nerve wracking," Cizikas told me after the game. "I think I got caught up a couple times out there trying to do a little bit too much. I just kind of slowed down, guys kind of talked me down and told me what to do here and it's just made it easier."

He also was quick to give credit to his line mates, Okposo and Nino Niederreiter, for making his transition to the NHL game easier for him. (Photo Credit: Stacy Rae Podelski)

"They're both great players and they're both making me better out there. It's definitely a plus for me and it only improves my game."

The third period saw a few more shots hit the post and the Devils were able to gain the Islanders zone better than they had done in the previous two periods, but they were unable to get any significant scoring chances. When called upon, Nilsson was square to the shooter and made each save look easy. A few gritty plays in front of the net didn't prevent the Islanders from maintaining their strength in the crease and they were able to hold on for a 1-0 lead to bring them within five points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"They were huge points for us," said Okposo. "I'm sure that a few of you guys didn't give us a chance to win those couple games but in here we know what we got. We know that we can compete with anybody on any given night. We just got to bring it for a full sixty minutes and we did that the past two games."

Well they will have to bring that same type of effort as not only is their next game against the Devils, but so is the one after that as well. A few more wins against their division rivals will really boost the confidence of this hockey club going forward.

But two straight losses to the Devils can really make the next couple of days a hellish week. 

-Rob McGowan 

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