- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
The Islanders needed this one worse.
With every small hiccup that has snowballed into a slump and every skid that has become painstakingly magnified because of a lockout-shortened season, the New York Islanders were a desperate team.
And they played like it.
Teetering precariously on succumbing to an absolute free-fall, the Islanders rallied back from an early 2-0 deficit to beat their New York rivals 4-3 in the shootout and snap a dreadful five-game losing streak.
"It was a great character win, coming back from a five-game losing streak, down 2-0. Great win," said Frans Nielsen, who beat former teammate Martin Biron through the 5-hole to tally the deciding goal in the shootout against the New York Rangers. "And no better place to turn it around, either."
Both Nielsen and John Tavares scored against their former teammate in the shootout to earn the elusive two points that had escaped their reach since their previous win -- two weeks ago. Thursday's victory also marked the first time in nine games the Islanders knocked off the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Trailing 2-0 after a passive first period, the Islanders braced for an earful in the dressing room during intermission and received what they expected.
"We gave it to 'em pretty good," coach Jack Capuano admitted. "But it's not about what you say. It's work ethic and desperation, and they had it."
The Islanders set a markedly different tone early in the second, employing a hard-checking, high-energy line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald to start the period. That move paid dividends as McDonald found the back of the net to cut the Rangers' lead in half only 29 seconds into play.
"Especially with the way we played in the first period, it was good to get one in right away," McDonald said. "Even if we didn’t score that shift, I was confident we were going to play better. We had a good talk after the first and I thought guys made a good commitment in the second to get to our game."
Tavares and Brad Boyes also chipped in with a goal each to complete a three-goal period and wrest back momentum.
"You could see it in guys' eyes," said goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who finished with 36 saves. "Guys were fired up and they were playing hard for each other. They did a hell of a job."
The Rangers answered back with Carl Hagelin’s power-play marker in the third but the Islanders prevailed in the shootout -- their first of the season.
It was a necessary win to stop the bleeding and salvage some hope that they can put their season back together.
Entering Thursday night's game with the penultimate spot in the East, the Islanders climbed to 12th in the conference with 11 points. A small consolation for the points surrendered during the five-game skid -- all 10 of them -- but a building block to open a two-game homestand against division opponents in the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.
"Five losses is tough, but I think we understand how important each game is and more and more of what it takes," said Tavares, who extended his goal-scoring streak to four games. "The last couple of games we didn’t play too bad -- we did some good things -- but there were just a lot of times when we just didn't handle the adversity as well."
That, Tavares hopes, is beginning to change.
"We know how to handle it. We’ve shown it before, we’ve all been in the league for a few years now so this was a great test for that, today again, and we stepped up to the challenge. We’ve got to expect more efforts like this."
5dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald