Islanders beat Wild, 2-1, in shootout
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Giving away the extra point Saturday night in a game the Islanders dominated hurt a little less, given that the Wild plays in the Western Conference and is not one of the teams above the Isles in the Eastern Conference standings.
But it would have hurt far, far more had the Isles not played their best overtime of the season and taken a 2-1 victory over the co-leaders of the NHL on Frans Nielsen's backhand shootout goal.
"Yeah, this would have been really, really tough to come away without the two points," said Nielsen, who scored the first shootout goal in nine attempts for the Isles this season. "We were definitely the better team tonight."
The Isles won for the first time in seven overtime/shootout results when Al Montoya stopped Dany Heatley's shootout try. They also snapped a four-game winless streak with one of their fullest efforts of the season despite losing a third-period lead for the second consecutive game.
"We made good decisions on our breakouts, we showed a lot of good presence in our own zone -- we just worked hard," said Andrew MacDonald, who returned after a seven-game absence because of a deep leg bruise and scored the Isles' only true goal.
MacDonald's return seemed to smooth out the rough edges the Isles' defense has had the previous three games, all regulation losses in which the Isles either led or were tied. He teamed with Travis Hamonic, his usual partner, and the Islanders kept the traffic away from Montoya, who faced only 21 shots through 65 minutes, including only nine in the first 40 minutes.
The Wild is playing without captain Mikko Koivu and second-line center Pierre-Marc Bouchard while already down two key forwards. The Islanders seized control after a mild first 20 minutes, outshooting the Wild 15-4 in the second and taking the lead on MacDonald's blast from the left circle six seconds after an Isles power play finished. It was his first goal in 21 games and second in two games against the Wild.
The Isles entered the third period with a one-goal lead that could have been two or three were it not for Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who made 35 saves. Backstrom robbed P.A. Parenteau in tight early in the third -- Parenteau, Matt Moulson and John Tavares totaled 16 shots on goal -- and that set the stage for the Wild's tying score.
"It's hard not to think, 'Here we go again,' " Jack Capuano said. His team blew a 2-1 lead entering the third to the Stars on Thursday. "But we picked it right back up and we battled."
That was especially true in overtime, as the Isles' four-on-four play this season has been tentative and ugly. They still generated chances in the OT and Nielsen, the shootout expert -- he has the best shootout percentage (.567, 17-for-30) of any NHLer with at least 10 attempts -- converted for the first time in three tries this season.
"It's a lottery in the shootout," Nielsen said, "but I think we deserved this one with the way we played."