CHICAGO — The Islanders were a little over a minute away from a victory over the Blackhawks Friday night when Chicago’s Artemi Panarin beat Thomas Greiss to tie the game at 1-1.
After a scoreless overtime, the Blackhawks beat Greiss twice in the shootout to come away with a 2-1 win. The Islanders at least got a point out of the night with Brock Nelson’s goal in the second period holding up until Chicago pulled goalie Corey Crawford.
Perhaps more importantly, the Islanders got back defenseman Travis Hamonic who got the first assist on Nelson’s goal.
Hamonic has missed 24 games because of a knee injury, but he has missed so much more.
The team Hamonic left behind when he took a knee-on-knee hit from Arizona’s Lawson Crouse on Jan. 7 was stuck in last in the Eastern Conference, bobbing along at a .500 points percentage without much to look forward to.
Jack Capuano was fired 10 days later, Doug Weight took over and Hamonic’s teammates started to play spirited hockey. With Hamonic back in the lineup, the Islanders entered last night’s game against the Blackhawks in the conference’s second wild-card spot.
The 26-year-old defenseman was hoping to just slide back in relatively unnoticed.
“I have missed a lot and this will be the first game with Doug for me,” Hamonic said before the game. “Early on, you know what it’s like — when you’re coming back from an injury, you’re not around a ton. As of late, sitting in all the meetings, I don’t think a ton has changed. I just think we’re a team that’s playing really confidently, whether we’re up or we’re down, especially at the start of the third periods. I think that’s why we’ve had some success of late.”
Hamonic knew something was wrong when he took the hit in Glendale two months ago. He managed to convince the team’s medical staff that he was fine and finished the game. “There’s no MRIs or anything right there, so I was going on adrenaline,” Hamonic said. “I certainly didn’t think it was as bad as it turned out to be.”
But this knee injury, Hamonic’s third in the past three seasons, turned out to be the most serious. He missed the final game of the 2014-15 regular season and the seven-game series against the Capitals with his first knee injury, then 10 days in the final weeks of last season with his second.
This one coming earlier in the season allowed Hamonic to return at an opportune time for the Islanders.
“His attitude, his compete, he likes to get up the ice and he’s a hard guy to play against,” Weight said. “It’s always a great thing to have in your lineup. We know what a big piece he is for our team and I look forward to having him back.”
Hamonic hasn’t had much practice time to learn Weight’s slightly tweaked defensive-zone system, but he didn’t anticipate any issues. Weight paired Hamonic with Adam Pelech, who was playing his first game since Feb. 14 after sitting out the previous seven as a healthy scratch. Scott Mayfield and Thomas Hickey were the healthy scratches on defense.