Kyle Okposo made a statement Thursday night, scoring the overtime winner as the Islanders defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 at Nassau Coliseum.
Okposo’s winner – a high snap shot from the slot – capped off a two-point night, extended his personal point streak to eight games (six goals, seven assists) and propelled Okposo into the top-10 in league scoring. The OT-winner may have held extra meaning for Okposo, who was left off the Team USA roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“When that puck went in and I heard everybody chanting ‘USA’, it was pretty special,” Okposo said. “I just wanted to go out and play my game. I didn’t prepare any different.”
The win was the Islanders’ third in a row – their first three-game win streak of the season – with the last two coming over last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, the (Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks).
“Now you are starting to see a lot more confidence in our game,” Captain John Tavares said. “I like the energy on the bench and in the locker room. The emotion is there and you can just feel the hunger from the guys. We’re starting to get the results.”
Thomas Vanek and Casey Cizikas also scored for the Islanders, who opened up a 2-0 lead in the first half of the game despite being outshot two-to-one in the first period. Cizikas broke up a breakout pass at center ice and skated one-on-one with Corey Crawford, before making a quick backhand-to-forehand move and netting his fifth of the season at 15:24 of the first.
Vanek extended the Islanders lead to 2-0 with his 14th goal of the season, extending his point streak to seven games (4g/6a). The Austrian sniper was battling in front of the Blackhawks net and banged in a loose puck at 8:09 of the second period.
The Blackhawks responded with two quick strikes – one late in the second period and another early in the third – to notch the game at two.
With time winding down in the second stanza, the Blackhawk’s third-ranked power play struck on their first opportunity, as Brent Seabrook hammered home a cross-ice pass from Kris Versteeg. The Blackhawks blitzed the Islanders early in the third, and Ben Smith finished off a Chicago-jam session in front of Evgeni Nabokov.
“There are still some points where we’ve lightened up and teams have been able to strike against us, but we’ve done a good job of just sticking with it,” John Tavares said.
The teams traded chances the rest of the way and the Islander’s top line came close to closing the game out in regulation. Okposo fed Tavares on a two-on-one attempt, but the puck came off of the heel of Tavares’ stick. The captain returned the favor for Okposo at the end of regulation, but Okposo was robbed by Crawford’s glove. Eventually the relentless attack paid off, as Tavares fed Okposo for the winner.
“That was one of the best games of the season,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “I’ve coached a few games, this was one of the fastest games [I’ve seen].”
The win wouldn’t be possible without stellar goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov, who made 37 saves en route to the second star. His counterpart made 31 saves in the overtime loss.
The Islanders look to extend their win streak to four games Saturday, when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at Nassau Coliseum. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.
NOTES: Casey Cizikas was playing in his 100th career game… Andrew MacDonald had two assists and led the team with 24:31 TOI… Matt Donovan was recalled from loan from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Thursday… Matt Martin led all players with five hits.
60 Kevin Poulin
10 Patrick Sharp – 19 Jonathan Toews - 81 Marian Hossa
23 Kris Versteeg – 26 Michal Handzus - 88 Patrick Kane
29 Bryan Bickell – 65 Andrew Shaw - 20 Brandon Saad
52 Brandon Bollig - 16 Marcus Kruger - 28 Ben Smith
2 Duncan Keith - 7 Brent Seabrook
8 Nick Leddy - 17 Mike Kostka
27 Johnny Oduya - 4 Niklas Hjalmarsson
50 Corey Crawford
31 Antti Raanta