The tongue-twisting trio combined for two goals and two saves in the abbreviated shootout, just two nights after the Islanders played a marathon 13-rounder in Tampa Bay against the Lightning. Nielsen beat Devils goalie Cory Schneider high with his patented forehand-to-backhand move, while Nelson mimicked the move, but slid the puck through the goalie’s pads. Nilsson did his part in net, stopping Adam Henrique and Patrick Elias.
“He’s got a few go-to moves,” head coach Jack Capuano said of Nielsen. “When it comes down to the skills competition, he’s pretty good. He made a good move and fortunately for us it was in the back of the net.”
The Islanders would not have gotten to the shootout if not for a late diving block by Thomas Hickey. Hickey dropped down in front of Marek Zidlicky before the Devils defenseman could unleash a shot from the slot in OT.
“If you can be between their guy and your goalie, it’s your responsibility to try and get in front of it,” Hickey said. “We had guys doing it all night, so it was just another good example.”
The Islanders – icing 10 rookies – dictated the pace of the first period with strong physical play. They outhit the Devils 19-4 in the first period and outshot their Tri-State rivals 9-2. While their work ethic didn’t yield any first-period goals, the Islanders controlled the opening 20 minutes.
That hard work was rewarded early in the second period, as Nielsen opened the scoring at 2:12. While driving hard to the net, Nielsen threw the puck into the slot, where it caromed off of Elias and past Schneider.
The game evened out as the Devils responded midway through the period. Henrique got open behind the defense and potted his own rebound to tie the score at one, giving the Devils new life. New Jersey wound up outshooting the Islanders 22-11 from the second period onwards.
“We got into some penalty trouble in the second, they had a surge and the momentum changed a little,” Capuano said. “I thought we were resilient and we kept battling.”
Nilsson was sharp for the Islanders, stopping 23 shots in regulation, as well as the two shootout opportunities. The 6’5 goaltender played big, challenging the Devils shooters at the top of the crease and limiting second and third opportunities. Schneider made 19 saves in the loss.
“It was nice for me personally to bounce-back from the previous two games,” Nilsson said. “I felt calmer, felt comfortable and the guys helped me feel comfortable. They were tracking guys well, keeping them to the outside and cleared the view for me. I pretty much saw every shot. They made it easy for me to play.”
The win gives the Islanders points in four straight games and notches up the season series with the Devils. The local rivals meet once more this season, facing off in New Jersey on April 11.
The Islanders retake the ice when they host the Florida Panthers Tuesday night at the Coliseum. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.