Despite taking momentum from the home side with two goals just before the first intermission, the New York Islanders lost 3-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday at United Center. Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo found the back of the net in the final minute of the opening period, while Kevin Poulin, making his first start of the season in goal, made 25 saves as the Islanders fell to 2-1-1 on the season.
"It's frustrating from the standpoint that our goaltender played that well," said head coach Jack Capuano. "He gave us a chance to win the game. We talked throughout the week about how we have to play. Managing the puck is big for us. We have to try to grind it out, and we played way too fancy tonight."
The Blackhawks struck midway through the first period on Joakim Nordstrom’s first NHL goal. Niklas Hjalmarsson controlled the puck behind the net, drifted out and passed through the slot for Nordstrom at the 9:32 mark.
Jonathan Toews doubled the Chicago lead later in the frame after converting a friendly bounce. Brent Seabrook ripped a shot from the right point that caromed off the end boards before finding Toews’ stick in the left circle. Poulin was unable to get across the crease on time, as the Blackhawks captain quickly buried the attempt.
With the prospect of heading into the intermission behind by a pair, the Islanders surged back to change the tone of the game.
With a delayed penalty coming to the Blackhawks, Michael Grabner led a rush all the way up the ice. After weaving through the defense, Grabner dropped a backhand pass to Bailey, who converted the opportunity for his second goal in as many games.
The assist was the fifth of the season for Grabner, matching his season total from a year ago.
As the final seconds of the first period ticked away, John Tavares shielded the puck behind Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin before sending a pass to the front of the net for Okposo. The winger kicked the puck to his stick before finding the back of the net with less than five seconds remaining.
Michal Handzus re-established Chicago’s lead at 6:45 of the second stanza with what turned out to be the winning goal. Poulin stopped Duncan Keith’s shot from the left point, but the rebound stayed in front and Handzus punched home the loose puck.
“We didn’t close quick enough and gave them some extended zone time,” Capuano said. “We lost some battles, and that’s something we talked about this morning. We turned the puck over way too much tonight. When you mismanage the puck against this hockey club, you’re in for a very long night.”
Neither team scored during the final period, despite three power plays (one for the Islanders, two for the Blackhawks). With Poulin on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, Okposo deflected a centering feed, but was unable to beat Khabibulin with 10 seconds left.
Following the game, the Islanders captain diagnosed what went wrong for the visiting squad.
“We just have to be a little hungrier,” Tavares said. “Obviously, they’re a good team and you have to respect them, but we’ve got to play them a little harder. I thought we did some good things, got a couple of big goals to get us back in the game, but we weren’t able to sustain that into the second period. We’ve got to find a way to keep generating our opportunities.”
Notes: The Islanders went 0-for-2 on the power play, while Chicago was 0-for-4 … The Blackhawks outshot the Islanders 28-19, with John Tavares leading the Islanders with four shots on goal … The Islanders outhit Chicago 29-18; Matt Martin led all players with five … The Islanders lost the faceoff battle 35-30, despite successful nights in the circle from Peter Regin (8-of-13, 62-percent) and Casey Cizikas (10-of-16, 63-percent) … The Islanders blocked 26 shots; TravisHamonic, Lubomir Visnovsky and Matt Martin tied with a team-high four blocks apiece, and every Islanders defenseman chipped in at least one block … Andrew MacDonald led the team in ice time for the fourth straight game, logging 24:46 … Matt Moulson was called for roughing in the third period, marking his first regular season penalty since Feb. 7 at NYR.