SAN JOSE, Calif. - The anvils were lifted off every Islander's back, at least for a night. There were a few rare smiles in the postgame locker room.
"That one felt good," Kyle Okposo said after his fourth-round shootout goal gave the Islanders a 3-2 win over the Sharks. "Especially the way we did it."
After going winless in 10 straight and losing 10 straight on the road in regulation, the Islanders would have taken any sort of victory. Tuesday night against a Sharks team that came in with a 10-1-2 home record, the Islanders worked their way back from a 2-0 hole on the strength of Kevin Poulin's remarkable night in goal and John Tavares' line getting the dormant offense moving in the third period.
Poulin made 46 saves, 18 in a onesided first period. But not even his heroics could keep the Islanders from a 2-0 hole entering the third and another loss was staring the Islanders in the face.
But Tavares' strong rush to the net in the opening minute of the third produced a loose puck and a scramble in the crease; Okposo "took about six whacks at it," but the puck still lay there and Thomas Vanek jammed it home just 51 seconds into the period.
"Once that one went in, we were like, 'All right, we got a little break there, the puck just stayed in the blue instead of sliding away,'" Okposo said. "Whether it was going to take five minutes or 19, we felt like we could get it tied."
It was closer to the latter. Inside of two minutes left in the third and Poulin on the bench for an extra skater, Tavares cleanly won a draw in the Sharks' zone and Okposo's shot beat Antti Niemi over the right shoulder with Vanek providing a screen, pulling the Islanders even and earning them a point away from Nassau Coliseum for the first time since a 5-4 shootout win in Ottawa on Nov. 1.
The Islanders got the second point in a shootout -- they still have only five regulation/overtime wins this season, more than only the Sabres -- and even that had plenty of drama.
Poulin stretched to stop Joe Pavelski's attempt to open the shootout, then immediately grabbed his left leg in pain. It turned out to be a cramp. "Long game," Poulin said afterward.
He stayed in and Vanek got the Isles ahead in the shootout, but Logan Couture evened it. Okposo won it and, after three weeks of nothing but frustration and anger, the Islanders had themselves a victory.
"We can enjoy this tonight," Tavares said, "but when we get back to the rink on Thursday [in Phoenix], we have to get back to being hungry. There's a lot of hockey left, there's 50 games to go, but we can't forget about the position we've put ourselves in the last 2-3 weeks."
Were they in any other division, the Islanders' chances of reaching the playoffs would be microscopic. But the Metropolitan Division has been one of mediocrity, so even after going winless since Nov. 16, the Islanders are nine points out of third place.
"We have time to turn this around," Okposo said. "Just have to keep battling."