UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Winless at home all month and slipping in the standings, the New York Islanders needed this one in a big way.
Frans Nielsen’s goal 16 seconds into the second period broke a 3-3 tie and the Islanders held on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-4 on March 29.
The Islanders came in winless in seven previous home games, last winning at Nassau Coliseum over Calgary on Feb. 27, and with only one victory in their last eight contests overall.
“You have to stay calm and not show panic,” said Islanders captain John Tavares, who had three assists. “It’s all about poise. And tonight, we were resilient.”
Ryan Strome, Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson and Cal Clutterbuck also scored for the Islanders, who improved to 45-27-5 and lowered their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to six points with Ottawa’s loss to Florida.
New York also scored three power-play goals for the first time this season.
Tomas Tatar, Drew Miller, Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk had Detroit’s goals.
Detroit’s Mike Babcock was coaching after the death of his father Mike Babcock Sr. on March 28 in Saskatoon. He was 78. Babcock said his father was sick for some time and had congestive heart failure and bad lungs.
“In the end, we were praying for him to join my mom and those prayers were answered,” Babcock said. “He’s in a better spot. Obviously any time you lose a parent, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s a blow.”
New York quickly fell behind 2-0 before the teams went on to score six goals combined in the first 10 minutes of the opening period.
Nielsen put the Islanders in front when his shot from the left wing found room between Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek’s right shoulder and the post. Nielsen’s 14th goal of the season led to Babcock pulling Mrazek and replacing him with Jimmy Howard. Mrazek had blanked Tampa Bay 4-0 at home on March 28.
Clutterbuck welcomed Howard with a short-handed breakaway goal at 3:57 to increase New York’s lead to 5-3.
“You knew they were going to come, that’s the trademark of the Islanders at this place,” Howard said. “They just keep coming.”
Clutterbuck’s seventh goal this season was his first since he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Flames on Feb. 27. The fourth-line right wing deferred credit to his teammates.
“We got those two goals back quickly and that was big for us,” Clutterbuck said. “Guys did a great job of stepping up. We never got down. We stayed confident.”
Even after Clutterbuck gave the Islanders a two-goal cushion, they gave up a power-play goal to Datsyuk at 10:20 of the second to narrow the lead to 5-4.
The goal by Datsyuk, with Nick Leddy in the penalty box for the Islanders, was his 24th of the season. The Islanders hadn’t allowed a power-play goal in 12 games, nullifying 27 straight man-advantages by opponents before Datsyuk’s goal.
Jaroslav Halak, who made 21 saves despite his shaky play at times, managed to deny the Red Wings in the third as the Islanders maintained a three-point lead over fourth-place Washington. The Capitals defeated the Rangers at Madison Square Garden 5-2 earlier Sunday.
Halak’s best save was a pad stop on Darren Helm with just over five minutes left in the final period.
“The guys were rewarded tonight,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We contained a pretty good hockey team. Timely goals got us back in the game and our special teams were the difference.”
The Red Wings fell to 40-23-12, third in the Atlantic Division and seven points behind second-place Tampa Bay.
“That first period had a lot of funny bounces, it was sloppy for both sides,” Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We played better from the second on, but obviously it wasn’t good enough. We need to find better balance.”
Tatar opening the scoring 39 seconds into the game before Miller followed with another goal for the visitors at 1:46 to stun the Nassau Coliseum crowd.
Tatar’s team-leading 28th goal came after Halak bobbled the puck after a save, and Tatar was outside the crease to swat in a rebound. Miller’s goal 1:07 later was his fifth of the season.
But the Islanders roared back with two quick strikes. Nelson rifled a shot past Mrazek on the power-play at 4:01, his 19th goal. Strome then tied it at 5:38 with his 16th.
The scoring barrage continued after Detroit’s Danny Dekeyser took a holding penalty and Okposo put the Islanders ahead at 9:02 when a shot from the point deflected into the net off his skate. The goal was upheld after review since there wasn’t a distinct kicking motion.
But the lead was short-lived as Kronwall blasted a shot from the point past Halak 52 seconds later to tie it at 3.
The Islanders held a 10-9 shots lead after the frenetic first and a 22-20 advantage after two periods.
The struggling Islanders came in 1-6-1 in their last eight games. They had just 12 goals in those eight games before the outburst against the Red Wings.
Source: The National Herald