New York Hockey: Evgeni Nabokov

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- What a fitting end to the Islanders' 2013 season, that they left the ice with the Nassau Coliseum crowd on its feet -- even after a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 6 -- saluting the team’s stellar effort in its first playoff appearance since 2007.

That should be the lasting image -- not Brooks Orpik’s game winner -- that each player conjures up when looking back on the team’s first-round series against the top-seeded Penguins.

[+] EnlargeNew York Islanders
AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Islanders should be proud of all they accomplished against the No. 1 seed Penguins.
Making it to the postseason was not enough for the Islanders, who surprised some doubters and captivated the league’s attention with their plucky play, but it should be regarded as a monumental step forward for the organization.

The Islanders couldn’t match Pittsburgh’s depth or experience, but they had the grit, heart and desire in ample supply to push the Penguins in a six-game set.

For so many years, the Islanders have suffered the indignities of the down-trodden and the ridicule that comes with annual bottom-five finishes.

But that perception of the Islanders is bound to change after this.

"We’ve taken a lot of heat in the past three years since I’ve been here, a lot of criticism from the media, people looked at us as a laughingstock," said heart-and-soul grinder Matt Martin, who finished with a game-high 11 hits Saturday night. "Throughout this series, we showed we can play with anyone. We’re excited about the future. We think we have something special here."

The Penguins acknowledged that, too.

After wrapping up their fourth win of the series -- a game that required them to erase three separate one-goal Islanders leads before Orpik’s deciding goal 7:49 into overtime -- they had plenty of respect for the Islanders as they convened at center ice for the customary handshake line.

[+] EnlargeJohn Tavares, Sidney Crosby
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsJohn Tavares said this experience will just serve to motivate the Islanders next season.
"Just walking through the line, they said so many good things, just that you guys have a really good team here. You know, I don’t think this team has heard that in a long time," said rugged forward Colin McDonald, who gave the Isles a 2-1 lead with 37 seconds remaining in the first period. "That’s one of the few positives you can talk about right now. I think as an organization, as players, maybe we gained some respect back, and I’m really glad the fans supported us the way they do. I hope this is just the start, a stepping stone looking ahead to next year."

The Islanders received the requisite secondary scoring Saturday from the likes of McDonald and Michael Grabner to build off John Tavares’ wrist shot from the slot that gave the Isles a 1-0 lead 5:36 into play.

But the Pens showed resilience in a tough road test during which they were outshot 38-21 and superstar Sidney Crosby was held to one point. Each time the Isles gained momentum, the Penguins found a way to even the score. Less than six minutes from the Islanders forcing a winner-takes-all Game 7 in Pittsburgh, Pens defenseman Paul Martin unleashed a one-timer that deflected off Frans Nielsen to knot the score at 3 and send the game into overtime.

"I think we outshot them again today and created a lot of opportunities, but times that we could’ve gone up and taken a bigger lead, we just couldn’t do it," said Tavares, who on Friday was named one of three Hart Memorial Trophy finalists for the league’s annual MVP. "They stayed with it, and maybe that’s why they’re moving on."

"It was every bit of a battle in those six games," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after his team punched its ticket to a second-round matchup against the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators.

Special teams hurt the Islanders and veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov failed to steal a game, but the Penguins were the team to come up with the big plays when it counted.

For that reason, the Islanders will pack up for the offseason, with the hunger to win even more intense now that they know what it takes and how it’s done.

"It’s what I’ll be thinking about all summer," said Tavares, who finished the series with three goals and five points. "It’s what pushes you every day, and you finally get to experience it. We got here and we weren’t satisfied with getting here. I thought we competed real well, we played with them most of the series and dictated the play a lot of the series, too. They just took advantage of most of their opportunities."

The Penguins remained composed throughout the series, keeping doubt at bay even when the Islanders' Cinderella story seemed to be gaining traction. Bylsma made a bold but necessary goaltending change in replacing starter Marc-Andre Fleury with veteran backup Tomas Vokoun after a bafflingly bad performance in Game 4. That move paid dividends as the latter turned away 66 of 69 shots faced in his two starts to close out the series.

And in moving on, Pittsburgh managed to exorcise some demons from last spring’s implosion when the team was upset in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I think we fought it a little bit, that history, and we fought it in different ways," Bylsma said. "But again, we had to be excited to win and not thinking about the past."

The Islanders don’t have that luxury, however. With their first taste of the playoffs also comes their first devastating sense of disappointment.

That won’t abate any time soon.

"Right now, it’s just tough, but in a couple of weeks when we look back at the season, I think we’ll realize we took a big step in the right direction," Nielsen said. "But, we’re definitely not satisfied with that. It’s still a long way to go. It’s not a success until we’ve got that Cup, but I think it’s a step in the right direction."

Isles gaining confidence

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Islanders are not simply happy to be here.

Proving that they can be more than just competitive with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders edged the top seed in the East 6-4 in a wild romp at Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night to even the series 2-2.

Scoring six goals against a supremely shaky Marc-Andre Fleury, the Isles might also have planted some serious doubt within the Penguins' room about their starting goaltender.

[+] EnlargeJosh Bailey
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsThe Islanders evened up the series at two games apiece on Tuesday.
Fleury has now given up 14 goals in four games this series, leading many to wonder whether veteran backup Tomas Vokoun will get the start in goal for Game 5 on Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma declined to say who would start, but he didn’t rule out Vokoun as a possibility.

“We’re not going to talk about our starting goaltender for Game 5 right now,” Bylsma said.

It wasn’t just Fleury who gave up questionable goals -- Isles netminder Evgeni Nabokov has a few he’d probably like back as well -- in what turned out to be a wildly entertaining game between two teams trading scoring chances at a frenetic pace.

After seeing leads quickly evaporate in the first two periods, the Islanders rattled off three goals in the final frame. Captain Mark Streit, who finished with three points, tied the game at 3 with his second goal of the game early in the third, and superstar center John Tavares snapped a 4-4 draw to score what would hold up as the game-winner midway through the period.

Tavares stick handled his way to the doorstep and chased his own rebound to beat Fleury’s outstretched pad for a 5-4 lead at 10:11. Fourth-line sparkplug Casey Cizikas (1G, 2A, +4 rating) added an insurance goal with less than two minutes remaining -- the final display of Fleury’s frustrating night.

Before that bizarre play, in which he was out of position and slow to react to Cizikas cutting to the net, Fleury gave up a real softie to Kyle Okposo in the second period.

Okposo threw the puck at the net from behind the goal line and banked it in off Fleury’s pads at 18:36.

The handful of blunders was eerily reminiscent of last year’s meltdown in the first round of the playoffs, when Fleury surrendered a dizzying 26 goals over six games to the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We know how he played last year against Philly, but we just want to go get traffic in front of him, get shots, shoot the puck,” Okposo said. “We didn’t shoot the puck enough in the second. We came out in the third, peppered him and got in his kitchen a little bit.”

Rugged forward Matt Martin said the team let Fleury off too easy in Game 1 when he recorded a 5-0 shutout. Since then, they’ve amped up the pressure.

“Game 1, we didn’t test him enough. He had a shutout. Luckily, Game 2 we were able to get some on him and since then, we’ve been able to capitalize on our opportunities,” Martin said. "I think if you take away any goalie’s confidence, it’s hard to make saves.”

By contrast, the Islanders confidence seems to be soaring after Game 4’s victory, one that ensures they’ll get another game at home in front of a raucous Nassau Coliseum crowd.

"Game 3 was heartbreaking and we found a way to put it behind us, so the nice thing is that we get another game at home here," Martin said. "The crowd’s been fantastic for us."

Even without top-pair defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who was forced from the game with an upper-body injury in the second period, the Islanders seem encouraged by their chances from here on out.

They’ll take momentum into Game 5 and the knowledge that these Penguins are a beatable team.

Although an inexperienced squad, the Islanders have matured, both from earlier this season and maybe even earlier this series, into one capable of managing the momentum swings and surges within a game.

“We put so much effort into getting here, there was no doubt we wanted to make the most of this opportunity," Tavares said. "We weren’t just satisfied being here. We believe in this room, obviously. ... There are a lot of guys stepping up for us here and that’s what we need.”
What it means: This first-round series between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins has been more than just competitive. It's been wildly entertaining.

Following a heartbreaking overtime loss on Sunday in Game 3, the eighth-seeded Isles edged the top-seeded Penguins 6-4 on Tuesday with three goals in a frenzied third period to even the series 2-2.

Goaltending took a back seat Tuesday night, with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Nabokov giving up a few questionable goals throughout the course of a frenzied game 4, but the crowd at Nassau Coliseum didn't seem to mind. The two teams traded goals until Islanders star John Tavares delivered the game-winner in the third.

Snapping a 4-4 draw, Tavares made a terrific move to stick handle his way to the net and chase his own rebound to beat Fleury. The dramatic goal caused a boisterous crowd at Nassau Coliseum to erupt into cheers of "M-V-P!" as the Penguins scrambled to collect themselves. Fleury didn't help matters, though, as his blunder late in the game allowed Casey Cizikas to add an insurance goal with 1:16 to play.

Trading chances: For the second time in the game, the Islanders allowed a lead to quickly evaporate. After captain Mark Streit's first goal of the night gave the Isles a 2-1 edge in the second period, the Penguins answered 58 seconds later when Evgeni Malkin converted a 2-on-1 rush. The Penguins later took a 3-2 lead on Brandon Sutter’s shot from the left circle that beat a screened Evgeni Nabokov, but this time it was the Islanders who responded.

Soft goal: Scrutinized for his meltdown in the Penguins’ first-round series against the Flyers last spring, Fleury has been on the hot seat this series. He didn’t help his case by giving up a softie for the game-tying goal with 1:24 remaining in the second. Kyle Okposo threw the puck on net from behind the goal line, banking it in off Fleury’s pads to knot the score at three heading into the second intermission.

Close call: Once again, Crosby was the recipient of a hazardous deflected puck, though Tuesday night’s close call appeared to be just that. In his third game back from a fractured jaw, Crosby was stung in the throat by a piece of Brian Strait’s shot that glanced off the stick of Chris Kunitz. In a poor display, Islanders fans cheered as Crosby doubled over and skated to the opposite end of the ice. He eventually went to the bench, where he was briefly treated by the team’s trainer, and returned to the ice.

Tied after one: Strait, whose Game 3 penalty on Crosby led to the game-winning power-play goal, gave the Isles a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a seeing-eye shot that beat Fleury at 14:05, but the Isles gave one right back less than a minute later. James Neal, who returned after suffering an injury in Game 1 of the series, ripped a sharp-angle shot past Nabokov 45 seconds later to tie the game, 1-1.

Man down: Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald was forced from the game in the second period after taking Douglas Murray’s shot to the arm. Should the injury sideline MacDonald for Game 5, that would be a significant loss for the Islanders blue line. The 26-year-old plays on the team’s top pairing with youngster Travis Hamonic.

Up Next: Islanders at Penguins, Thursday at 7.

Penguins' determination fits to a 'T'

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
2:36
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins showed up for work Wednesday morning wearing T-shirts with the No. 4 on the back, a nod to the immediate task of winning four games to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

No word on whether those same shirts will be worn Thursday with the "4" crossed out and replaced by a "3" after the Penguins whipped the New York Islanders 5-0 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

They’re just T-shirts, of course: some fabric and a little lettering, including the phrase, "Here We Go."

But the shirts speak to a mindset, a narrowing of the focus to the task at hand.

When you are a team as deep and talented as the Penguins -- and when there is as much discussion about a long playoff run, a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals, another championship -- it might be easy to forget about first things first.

If you look at the big picture, if you look at what is needed to win a Cup, "It’s a bit overwhelming," Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams said after Wednesday’s game.

And if you start thinking about that, "you’ll never get there," he said.

"Everyone wanted to hand us the Cup last year, and we saw how that turned out," Adams added.

And there’s the rub.

In an interview before Wednesday’s game, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero went to great pains to reinforce that his team was very mindful of the Islanders, even though the Pens were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Isles the eighth seed.

"I know this team has a great deal of respect for the Islanders," Shero said. "There’s no way we’ll be underestimating them."

Those are the kinds of sentiments that are on display when you’re coming off a 2012 playoff season that really ended before it began with the Penguins blowing a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia in Game 1 and quickly falling behind 3-0 in the series en route to a six-game loss. It was the second consecutive one-and-done playoff spring for the Penguins, and they have won just one playoff round since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.

So you can understand if there is an emphasis on the details this time around.

"We’ve been preaching that all year," Adams said. "I think we’ve been humbled."

After one game, it would appear the message has sunk in, as the Penguins methodically took apart an inexperienced Islanders team that is playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007.

The Pens took advantage of an early power play to go up 1-0 after a terrific play by Beau Bennett, who cut in from the right side and roofed a shot over veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov. Bennett wouldn’t be in the lineup if it weren’t for the fact that doctors declined to let captain Sidney Crosby suit up for Game 1.

Talk about taking advantage of your opportunities: Bennett scored in his first-ever playoff game.

The Penguins would add another power-play goal early in the second period by Kris Letang before Pascal Dupuis, the king of even-strength goals, added two while the teams were playing five aside. Tanner Glass rounded out the scoring with his first-ever postseason goal.

Defensively, the Pens killed off four Islander power plays and limited the Isles to 26 shots, providing netminder Marc-Andre Fleury with ample protection. Fleury, who endured a nightmare series last postseason against the Flyers, earned his sixth postseason shutout.

"Everything went great tonight," Dupuis said. "Yes, we did play the right way, but you have to keep saying to yourself it’s only 1-0."

If there was cause for concern for the Penguins, it was the loss of James Neal, who got tangled up with Travis Hamonic early in the second period and did not return. There was no information on his status for Game 2 Friday.

Also, Jussi Jokinen, who added two assists and continues to be a point machine since coming over from Carolina at the trade deadline, went off the ice gingerly after a collision with Islanders forward Marty Reasoner, who was assessed a kneeing major with 2:10 left in the game.

The Islanders, meanwhile, looked like a team whose most important players (outside Nabokov) were playing in their first playoff game. Reasoner, playing in his 24th career postseason game, was the player with the most playoff experience among Islander skaters, and he’d been a healthy scratch for the final 10 regular-season games.

John Tavares, who figures to be among the finalists for the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, was a nonfactor, finishing the night without a shot. Likewise, Brad Boyes and Matt Moulson weren’t the players who combined for 25 regular-season goals.

Head coach Jack Capuano said the team’s work ethic and determination weren’t what they had been during the final month of the regular season, when the Isles secured an unexpected playoff berth, and the execution was lacking.

Nabokov, a player Capuano referred to as an extension of the coaching staff given his experience, was given the hook just 1:51 into the second period after the Pens made it 4-0 with two goals in 32 seconds.

Although he was beaten twice by hard, high shots courtesy of Bennett and Letang on the power play, this loss wasn’t a function of poor goaltending. Instead, this was a loss that was, pure and simple, about one team being light years ahead of another in terms of getting the job done.

"Obviously, I think it was a little bit too easy for them, for the Penguins. All-around game has to be better. Better saves, more saves. I guess it’s got to start with me," Nabokov said.

"I’ve got to make key saves at the key times and give the guys a chance to battle. But the game was over basically at the beginning of the second period, it’s four-zip, and it’s really tough to come out of it against that type of team. So [I] have to find a way to tighten up and be better," he said.

Of course, as the Pens’ T-shirts remind us, this series is not the best of one.

The Islanders have a chance to regroup, and one imagines whatever nerves and butterflies might have invaded their bodies Wednesday will have dissipated by the time Game 2 rolls around Friday night.

"I don’t think anything is easy. You have to come out, and you have to work hard. It’s got to hurt to play; I heard somebody in the locker room actually say that: It’s got to hurt to play," Nabokov said.

"I think we have to come out next game, and we have to be ready, be more physical and just make it hard on them everywhere, every inch of the ice. We have to battle for every inch of the ice, everywhere. I think that’s the only way we can play with that team because, otherwise, they’re too skilled. They’re too good."

Bad penalty, bad bounce costs Isles

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
12:14
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PITTSBURGH -- Islanders coach Jack Capuano talked before the game about the need for his team to stay disciplined. Yet early in the first period, former Penguin Brian Strait took exception to a Matt Cooke hit on one of his teammates and gave Cooke a shot as Strait was coming onto the ice, drawing an interference penalty. The Pens’ Beau Bennett scored late in the power play to put the Isles behind the eight ball early on. The power-play goal was aided by the fact a clearing attempt by the Isles struck one of the on-ice officials in the neutral zone and allowed the Penguins to quickly return to the Islander zone.

***

Veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov was yanked early in the second period after allowing four goals on 15 shots. Three of those goals came after he took a Jarome Iginla rocket off the top of his mask, a shot that left him momentarily dazed in the first period.

"I never had that. The chunk was out, and I think the mask is done," Nabokov said.

"It’s the first time I’ve actually felt it," Nabokov said, adding that he was lucky the puck hit the top of the mask as opposed to a more direct impact on the forehead or cage.

"Yeah. Good mask," he said ruefully.

***

Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton, who was part of the Pens’ Cup-winning team in 2009 before departing for Long Island, where he played for two seasons, signed with the Penguins in February as a free agent when the Penguins were beset by injuries. He drew an assist on Pascal Dupuis’ second goal Wednesday night, his first point of the season. He led all players with eight blocked shots. When the Penguins are healthy along the blue line (Brooks Orpik missed Game 1 with an injury sustained late in the regular season), Eaton usually plays with Kris Letang his defense partner during the ’09 Cup run.

***

Marc-Andre Fleury’s sixth postseason shutout leaves him tied with Tom Barrasso for the most playoff shutouts in franchise history.

Isles lose, fall to eighth

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
9:28
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The feared emotional letdown?

That happened Thursday, as the Islanders fell 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers just one game after clinching their first playoff berth in six years Tuesday night.

The Isles entered Thursday's divisional clash in sixth place with control over their own seeding destiny. But the two points surrendered in an underwhelming effort in Philly, coupled with overtime wins by both the Senators and Rangers, now leaves the team in eighth place, with a first-round match-up against the dominant Penguins looking likely.

With a win in Buffalo on Friday, and some help, the Islanders could avoid that dreaded draw, but the No. 2 seed Bruins and No. 3 seed Capitals are daunting opponents as well. The Bruins boast one of the league's deepest rosters, with some added bulk to their lineup and strong goaltending with Tuuka Rask in net. The Capitals have emerged from the depths of the East to become one of the hottest teams, with Alex Ovechkin absolutely scorching in the month of April.

The Islanders might be a popular pick for a potential first-round upset, but they are headed for a battle regardless of how the standings shake out this weekend.

With youngster Kevin Poulin receiving the nod Thursday night, it is likely that Jack Capuano goes back to veteran Evgeni Nabokov in net against the Sabres Friday in the Islanders' season finale.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 2, Isles 1 (OT)

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
9:40
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What it means: Michael Grabner was whistled for a hooking penalty 21 seconds into overtime and the Rangers capitalized for a 2-1 OT win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday. Marian Gaborik unleashed a slapshot that beat a screened Evgeni Nabokov at the 42-second mark of the overtime period to give the Rangers their season-high fourth straight win. The Islanders were not a happy bunch as they exited the ice and directed their ire at the officiating crew that sent Grabner to the box. The team staff was slapped with a game misconduct for their outburst.

Tie game: Snapping Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov's shutout bid and knotting the game at one, Rick Nash extended his goal-scoring streak to four games. Nash tipped in Derek Stepan's slapshot at 14:37 of the third, scoring his team-leading eighth goal of the season. Coincidentally, all eight of Nash's goals this season have come in the third period. Nash now has eight points (five goals, three assists) in four games since returning from an undisclosed injury (believed to be a concussion) on February 28.

Top shelf: A pretty no-look feed from Colin McDonald set up Michael Grabner in the slot for his tenth of the season. Grabner roofed the puck for a 1-0 Islanders lead at 11:51 of the first period. Matt Martin, who leads the league in hits, almost extended the Islanders' lead to two goals with a short-handed breakaway in the second, but Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stoned him to keep his team within a goal.

New guy: Roman Hamrlik made his Rangers debut after being claimed off waivers by New York on Wednesday. The 38-year-old veteran, who played only four games with the Capitals this season, was used on the third pair with Steve Eminger. Before the game, he said he felt his new club is a “Stanley Cup Contender.”

Richards, Staal out: Both Brad Richards (soreness) and Marc Staal (eye) sat out Thursday’s game. Richards said he is “feeling better” since sustaining a vicious hit from Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta on Sunday but does not want to rush his return. Staal is out indefinitely after taking a puck to the eye on Tuesday, but doctors expect him to make a full recovery. Arron Asham missed his seventh straight game with a back injury.

Up Next: Rangers vs. Senators, Friday at 7 p.m.

Rapid Reaction: Isles 5, Devils 1

February, 16, 2013
2/16/13
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At a glance: John Tavares recorded his fourth career hat trick, leading the Islanders to their second consecutive victory with a 5-1 win over the Devils at the Nassau Coliseum Saturday night. Both Tavares and linemate Matt Moulson finished with four points each as they knocked off their second divisional opponent in three nights. A three-goal outburst late in the second period fueled the way for the Islanders, who also tallied three power-play goals on the night. Entering Saturday's game ranking first in the Eastern Conference, the Devils have now dropped two of their last three games.

Still streaking: Tavares snapped a scoreless tie late in the second period, burying a Brad Boyes rebound to extend his goal-scoring streak to five games. Tavares then notched two power-play goals, one late in the second to extend the Isles lead 2-0, then another in the third to lock up the 4-1 win.

Bad move, Bryce: Tavares’ second of the night came after an ill-advised penalty landed Devils captain Bryce Salvador in the box. Salvador put his team down a man after chopping at Islanders forward Matt Martin behind the net with a high stick at 17:51. Salvador’s fellow defenseman Henrik Tallinder then took a tripping penalty a little more than a minute later which resulted in the Isles’ second power-play goal.

Power surge: With a 2-0 Isles lead, Moulson scored another man-up goal, the team’s second in a span of 57 seconds late in the middle frame. Tavares then earned the hat trick with a blistering wrist shot that zipped past Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg in the third. The Islanders’ power-play unit has been one of its strongest assets this season. Before the trio of power-play markers Saturday, the team entered the game ranked 6th in the league with a 25% completion rate.

Free shot: David Ullstrom was awarded the Islanders’ second penalty shot this season after being tripped up on a breakaway in the first period. The 23-year-old Swede’s backhanded attempt just missed, clanking off the cross-bar at 16:45 of a scoreless game.

Up Next: Islanders vs. Flyers Monday at 1 p.m.; Devils vs. Senators Monday at 1 p.m.

Islanders grab huge comeback win

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
12:10
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John Tavares, Martin BironAnthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports John Tavares scores on former teammate Martin Biron in the shootout to beat the Rangers.
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."

[+] EnlargeKyle Okposo, Evgeni Nabokov
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesIslanders' Kyle Okposo and Evgeni Nabokov celebrate the shootout win over the Rangers.
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."

What's wrong with the Isles?

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
11:35
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With a 6-4 loss to Carolina Monday night, the Islanders are amidst a five-game losing streak that has them tumbling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Despite early signs that the team could be turning a corner and poised for its first playoff appearance in six years, the Islanders will have to make up some ground before they re-enter the conversation.

With a 4-7-1 record and nine points, the Isles rank 14th in the Eastern Conference, just two points ahead of the woeful Washington Capitals, and last in the Atlantic Division.

What or who to blame?

The team is 29th in the league in goals against per game, with a whopping 3.58 surrendered, and one needs to look no further than the club's goaltending tandem as to why.

Neither starter Evgeni Nabokov (4-5-1, 3.00, .897) or backup Rick DiPietro (0-2-0, 4.60, .842) have save percentages above .900 and the latter gave up three third-period goals in the team's most recent loss.

Too bad the trade for Tim Thomas wasn't more than a salary-cap transaction. It's not just his $5 million cap hit they could use.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 4, Islanders 1

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
9:38
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New York Rangers prospect J.T. Miller was a crowd-pleaser in his stunning Madison Square Garden debut. The 19-year-old rookie tallied twice in the Rangers' 4-1 win over the New York Islanders. Miller's breakout performance helped the Blueshirts pass their rivals in the Atlantic Division standings in the two clubs' first meeting of the season.

Miller time: On his first shift at Madison Square Garden, Miller notched his first NHL goal. The 19-year-old Miller, called up on Monday, beat Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to open up scoring for the Rangers. He notched another -- a much-needed power-play goal -- in the next frame, beating Nabokov five-hole on a breakaway to reclaim the team’s two-goal lead. The Rangers have three more games before they have to decide whether to send him back to the American Hockey league or trigger the first year of his entry-level contract.

Big news: Just hours before the game, the Islanders pulled off a surprising move, acquiring veteran goaltender Tim Thomas in a trade with Boston. But don’t expect to see him splitting time in net with Nabokov anytime soon. The move was one made for the sake of cap benefits for each team -- providing the Bruins some space and the Islanders some help to hover above the cap floor. Thomas has not played this season after announcing via his personal Facebook account that he was taking time off to spend with his family.

More than one JT: Isles star center John Tavares tallied his fifth goal of the second, beating Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist high-glove, to cut the Rangers lead in half, 2-1, at 11:13 in the second.

Captain comeback: Ryan Callahan returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in a fight during the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Flyers last Tuesday. The 27-year-old captain missed three games with the shoulder subluxation.

Scratched again: Defenseman Dan Girardi sat out his second straight game Thursday. The 28-year-old blue-liner is “banged up,” according to the team. Before being sidelined, Girardi had played all but two games in the past four seasons.

On the way: Both defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and forward Josh Bailey are expected to play for the Islanders this weekend, possibly Saturday against the Sabres. Visnovsky, who was suspended for refusing to return from the KHL once the lockout was lifted, arrived on Long Island and passed his medical on Thursday. Bailey is likely to return from a knee injury suffered while playing overseas during the lockout.

Up next: Rangers vs. Lightning, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Visnovsky arrives, passes medical

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
12:41
PM ET
Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky has arrived in the U.S. and appears set to finally join the team. The 36-year-old veteran was suspended by the team earlier this season for refusing to come back to the NHL after the lockout was lifted.

According to an Islanders spokesperson, Visnovsky passed his medical Thursday morning and is slated to practice with the team Friday.

Visnovsky could be in the lineup as earlier as Saturday, when the Islanders host the Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum.

Coach Jack Capuano also indicated that Josh Bailey (knee) is likely to play this weekend as well.

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov first off the ice this morning, so expect him to face Henrik Lundqvist in net at Madison Square Garden.

Matt Carkner is out with a lower-body injury that has him listed as day-to-day.

Isles offer Nabokov extension, trade vets

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
4:05
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The Islanders made one late move, sending veterans Brian Rolston and defenseman Mike Mottau to Boston in the final minutes before the clock struck three. They received prospects Yannick Riendeau and Marc Cantin from the Bruins in the deal.

In addition to the last-minute swap, general manager Garth Snow extended an offer to goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Nabokov is currently mulling the deal, one source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.

Training camp preview: Islanders

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
5:31
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The Islanders missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season and endured a tumultuous year that included a 13-game winless streak, a head coaching change and several debilitating injuries. They're hoping they can stay healthy and turn things around.

Main storylines

1. Goaltending: A franchise record-setting six different goaltenders made starts for the Islanders last season and the nets are already crowded this year. Injury-prone Rick DiPietro will have every chance to succeed -- after all, he's signed through 2021 -- but he'll be pushed by last year's surprise starter, Al Montoya, and promising up-and-comer Kevin Poulin. And now the Islanders can add Evgeni Nabokov to the mix. The 36-year-old veteran, who was claimed by the Islanders last January and refused to report, has by far the most experience of the four goalies expected to compete for the job. But the former Vezina Trophy finalist, who spent part of last season in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, hasn't played in the NHL since the May 2010. Strong, consistent goaltending will be vital to the team's success and they already have an interesting battle brewing.

2. Can they stay healthy? For the third time in four years, the Islanders led the league in man-games lost, including two devastating injuries that occurred before the puck even dropped on a preseason game. Two of the team's most valuable players -- defenseman Mark Streit and forward Kyle Okposo -- suffered significant shoulder injuries during intrasquad scrimmages. And those were just a harbinger of things to come -- the team also lost defensemen Mike Mottau, Mark Eaton, Andrew MacDonald and goaltenders DiPietro and Poulin for significant chunks of time. No team has the depth to withstand the injuries the Islanders sustained last season; they hope they aren't faced with a similar situation again.

3. El Nino: Former first-round pick Nino Niederreiter stuck around for nine games with the Islanders last season before they sent him back to his junior team, but the Swiss winger will have a much better shot at cracking the lineup this year. After dominating at the junior level (41 goals, 70 points) and honing his game, the chippy forward has a good chance to make the team. The Islanders envision him as their first-line right wing of the future, but will evaluate whether he is prepared to handle the rigors of the NHL game now.

New additions

C Marty Reasoner: The 34-year-old will replace fan favorite Zenon Konopka as the team's gritty fourth-line center, but he'll be expected to contribute offensively as well. Reasoner finished last season with 14 goals and 18 assist for the Florida Panthers.

LW Brian Rolston: Acquired from the Devils in a trade that shipped Trent Hunter to New Jersey, Rolston, 38, provides the Islanders with a strong veteran presence inside the room as well as a powerful shot from the point.

G Evgeni Nabokov: Although the Islanders owned his rights after claiming him off waivers in January, Nabokov refused to report and was subsequently suspended. With a lengthy layoff from hockey to rethink his situation, the long-time Shark appears to have a different attitude about playing for the Islanders. If he wants to get back into the NHL, his journey will have to take him through Long Island whether he likes it or not.

Wild card

At 18, the Islanders' 2011 first-round draftee, Ryan Strome, doesn't appear physically ready to play in the NHL, but the Islanders will keep an eye on the skilled center to see what they have in this year's fifth overall pick.

Bottom line

The time is now for the Islanders to shed the rebuilding phase and take the next step. They have enough young talent to become a playoff team, but will need to count on good health and consistent goaltending to make that happen.

Report: Nabokov will attend training camp

August, 1, 2011
8/01/11
6:27
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Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov will attend the Islanders training camp in the fall, according to a report in Newsday.

The Islanders claimed Nabokov off waivers from Detroit last season, but he did not report to the team and the Islanders ended up suspending Nabokov. He has not played in the NHL since 2009-10, but played 10 seasons for San Jose.

Read more about this story here.

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