Islanders rookie Anders Nilsson shuts out Devils, 1-0
In a way, the Islanders took the pressure off rookie goalie Anders Nilsson by preventing the Devils from taking many high-percentage shots.
On the other hand, they put immense pressure on him by not being able to score more than one goal against Martin Brodeur in a tense, playoff-like game Sunday at a sold-out Coliseum that the Islanders just could not afford to lose.
Either way, the 21-year-old from Lulea, Sweden, was up to it. He turned away all 24 shots that reached him before deflecting most of the praise to his teammates.
"They blocked a lot of shots, and when [the Devils] got a shot through, it was from the boards. That made it real easy for me," Nilsson said after a 1-0 win that was more historic than easy.
Nilsson became the first Islanders rookie ever to make his first win a shutout, and he was the youngest Islander to record a shutout since Roberto Luongo did it at 20 on Dec. 27, 1999.
More important, Nilsson had no margin for error. The Islanders entered Sunday seven points out of the final playoff spot in the East and now are five back of Winnipeg.
That was a rough spot for someone who had played in only two NHL games, had started only one of them -- and had lost that one, 5-0, at the beginning of Sidney Crosby's brief comeback with the Penguins on Nov. 21. Still, Nilsson was up to it, all of it.
"He was terrific tonight. I don't think he was ever out of position once," said Kyle Okposo, who scored on an impressive individual effort at 2:39 of the second period. "When you practice with a guy like that and you're struggling to score in practice and you can't find any holes, you know that he's got some talent. Tonight he showed it."
Maybe Nilsson's most telling talent was poise. "The last couple months here, I've become more and more comfortable every day," he said. "Now I don't have to think of anything out there, I just go out there and play."
He learned from that Crosby game and from increased playing time in Bridgeport recently. "He came in here and he was smooth and confident," coach Jack Capuano said.
The Islanders' forwards and defensemen were "focused" and "passionate," the coach said, adding, "We've got a different-type team than some of the other teams in our division, but the one thing that we have is that our guys work. We talk about desire and passion and making plays, we've seen that the last two games."
No one could identify a single spectacular save by Nilsson, alluding only to a scramble in the last minute. "You have to throw more pucks at a young guy," Brodeur said. "When you have six shots in the first, that's not a way to test a goalie."
It was the fellow making his third appearance who earned the shutout (he pronounced it "shootout"), not the man playing his 1,177th NHL game.
"He's one of those guys you looked up to when you were younger because he's one of the biggest goalies who ever played in the NHL. So of course it was big to play against him and get the win," Nilsson said. "No, I haven't met him. So far."