Driving into Newark, New Jersey the New York Islanders knew they had two points to earn if they wanted to win their six game season series with the Devils. That same win would knock the Devils out of playoff contention.
But when the whistle blew ending regulation at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night, reality set in. Two third period goals from Frans Nielsen were enough to tie the score, but not to seal a victory. Defenseman Andy Greene got one final goal past Rick DiPietro at 15:04 to give the Devils a 3-2 win.
“Greene came in and he had a good shot, just over my pad. That’s it,” DiPietro said, clearly disappointed in the 17 save effort.
But the Devils have a great team, a shut down defense and a neutral zone trap that many teams have trouble breaking through. Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said he was happy with the teams effort they put out on the ice, comparing the game to the last time the Islanders faced their division rivals.
“I like the way we played,” Capuano said. “The last time we came in here, we weren’t very good. We gave up 40-plus shots. They were all over us and they had extended zone time. Tonight, we battled. I thought our kids back on the blue-line battled. I liked our effort tonight.”
After giving up a goal in each of the first two stanzas, the Islanders fought to tie the score in the third. Nielsen first put the team on the board when he scored his league-leading seventh shorthanded goal of the season at 9:38.
Frans Nielsen #51 of the New York Islanders scores a third period goal against Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 30, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“He did it in Bridgeport,” Capuano said. “It’s not surprising that he’s done it here. He’s one (shorthanded goal) away (from owning the Islanders record for shorthanded goals in a season) obviously, but he’s a guy that works that hard for everything he gets.”
Nielsen scored his second goal of the night at 13:44, knocking in a loose puck from inside the crease.
“I actually tried to kick it first, but I missed it,” Nielsen said. “Then I didn’t see how it went in.”
He continued, “I tried to reach it with my skate, but I couldn’t get to it. So then something happened and it ended up in the back of the net. It was just laying there.”
That game-tying goal was largely in part due to Matt Martin’s rush along the left wall and big a wrap-around attempt. The Isles power forward was Nielsen and Kyle Okposo’s stand-in linemate while Michael Grabner was at the hospital for the birth of his son.
“Marty plays hard.” Nielsen said. “He wins the puck back when we lose the puck he just goes there. He’s a big body and wins the puck back. He makes nice plays. When me and Okie (Okposo) were open, he would get it to us. He played well. It was nice to play with him.”
Before the Isles could tie the score, they went down by a pair of goals. Ilya Kovalchuk scored at 4:17 of the first and Jacob Josefson scored at 3:23 of the second.
“Definitely, Ricky had some big saves,” Nielsen said. “At the end of one, we were only down by one goal. So we knew we were still in the game, but it just can’t happen. We have to be ready, especially against a team like New Jersey. They are very tough to play against when they have the lead.”
Thus, Nielsen said the team needed to have that third period effort right from the start.
“We’re making plays and we challenged them one-on-one,” Nielsen said. “We won battles and we got pucks deep. What we did in the third, it was just too bad we couldn’t, in the first period we didn’t show up at all. The second was okay, but you have to play great for 60 minutes to beat a team like this.”
It’s well known that the Islanders have one of the youngest teams in the league this season, but the team’s defense got even younger Wednesday night as Bruno Gervais and Milan Jurcina weren’t able to play. In all, Radek Martinek and Jack Hillen were the only Islanders defensemen to dress that started the season on Long Island.
“(Katic and Reese) got exposed a little bit, but they were playing against a pretty good hockey team with good size down low,” Capuano said. “I thought the kids played really well tonight. We have a lot of kids in our lineup right now, even at the forward position, and I thought they gave us everything they had.”