A couple of hours before a game against the big-scoring, high-flying Stars, Islanders coach Jack Capuano issued words of caution: “You don’t want to get in a shootout with these guys.”
By the end of the night, it was reasonable to ask, “Why not?”
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True, the Stars entered with the best record in the NHL, built largely on their ability to put pucks in the net. And until Sunday night at Barclays Center, they had not lost two in a row all season.
But the Islanders showed that they have the ingredients to roll with the Stars and past them. Specifically, the Islanders — who won the high-octane game, 6-5 — have Cal Clutterbuck. And nobody else has anybody quite like him.
He started the day having to overcome an injury that knocked him out of a rough night in Pittsburgh on Saturday (a 5-2 defeat), then had to withstand another when he was slammed into the sideboards during the second period by Jason Demers.
Clutterbuck endured all of that and scored two goals, matching teammate Kyle Okposo and helping to prove the Islanders can play run-and-gun with the best of them if they have to.
They prevailed in a frenzied third period — after having led 5-2 — that featured a shorthanded goal by Clutterbuck on a sharp pass from the corner by Casey Cizikas. That punctuated a night that left Clutterbuck feeling as if he had been punctuated, or punctured.
“I feel like I want to go home and put my feet up and watch a TV show or something,” said the right wing, who is known for mixing it up with physical play but has nine goals this season.
“He’s on pace to have a career year,” Capuano said. “He’s a guy to me who comes to the rink every day with a purpose. He wants to get better. He just knows how to play one way. He’s a physical presence. You look at a guy, the history of how physical he is, but he has got a lot of skill. He’s got a high hockey IQ. He knows how to play the game.
“You can put him out there really in a lot of situations. To me, he’s a leader. He doesn’t wear the letter on his jersey, but the guys know he’s an experienced guy and what he brings to the table. He’s a tough guy to keep out of the lineup.”
Clutterbuck wasn’t the only one with spark in this one. Anders Lee and Mikhail Grabovski also scored for the Islanders. Okposo, goal-less since a two-goal game Dec. 12, gave the Islanders momentum with a sprawling shot from the low left circle at 18:28 of the first period, making the score 2-2. He put the Islanders ahead for good at 8:13 of the second during a power play — a man advantage earned because of Demers’ hit on Clutterbuck.
“That was a tough one,’’ Clutterbuck said. “I didn’t really see it happen or see it coming or anything. I just obviously felt the aftereffects of it. I just came in here and made sure I wasn’t hurt or concussed or anything.”
He left the game for a while, and on his second shift back, he scored at 17:43 of the second for a 5-2 lead.
Ultimately, the Islanders withstood three third-period goals by Dallas (two by Valeri Nichushkin, one by Jason Spezza) and proved something to themselves.
“Every day is a measuring stick,” Clutterbuck said. “I think we’re a good enough team that we can compete with anybody.”