Style points? Not really. The actual points were all that mattered for the Islanders, who didn’t produce a Rembrandt on Sunday afternoon but gutted through a 5-4 shootout win over the Devils at Barclays Center to snap a five-game losing streak.
With a five-day break beginning after the game, the thought of losing six straight seemed too much to bear even when the Islanders fell behind 4-2 after the Devils scored twice in a 37-second span early in the third period. The second goal, by Taylor Hall, prompted Jaroslav Halak to smash his stick in half on the post.
“When Nick Leddy’s stick breaks and they go down and score, I was ready to walk off — it’s just not meant to be,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said of the sequence leading to Hall’s goal, when Leddy’s stick snapped and the Devils raced off on an odd-man rush. “Really great effort from the guys.”
More so given that the Isles were without Josh Bailey and Andrew Ladd on top of already missing Johnny Boychuk. Rookie defenseman Sebastian Aho stepped back into the lineup and into the spotlight in that third period, snapping home his first NHL goal on the power play at 7:58 and whipping a perfect pass for Cal Clutterbuck to tie it at 4-4 at 15:43.
The Isles pressed for the winner in regulation and had to kill off a penalty in overtime before pulling through in a five-round shootout, with Brock Nelson scoring the only goal in the teams’ 10 tries. Halak, who made 42 saves, had two Devils fumble away shootout attempts and Brian Gibbons hit the post in round five to get the win.
“A stretch like we’ve had, we knew it’d be something, some sort of adversity, another test,” Clutterbuck said. “Especially with some key guys out of our lineup and they had a full squad and that’s a great team. Some key mistakes, unfortunate breaks — a loose skate blade, a broken stick. Perseverance, though, that’s the way you get out of these things.”
And a few unlikely players stepping forward. Weight put Alan Quine in Bailey’s spot with Anders Lee and John Tavares, and Quine, who has been adrift since returning from offseason wrist surgery, had his best game of the season.
So did Anthony Beauvillier, who returned from a two-game AHL stint to score his fifth NHL goal of the season off some good work by Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead in the second.
“We need contributions from everyone. It goes a long way in getting where you need to,” Tavares said.
Aho, the Isles’ fifth-round pick this past June who spent three years playing professionally in Sweden before joining the organization, showed how much promise he has and how much work he still has to do.
He was paired with Leddy for the majority of the game, and those two were on for all three even-strength goals by the Devils, including the two early in the third.
Aho stands 5-10 and is about 170 pounds, which makes it tough for him to match up with big NHL forwards, but his offensive skills shone brightly. He stepped into a soft spot at the top of the Devils’ penalty kill and whipped a wrist shot past Cory Schneider to bring the Isles within a goal, then made a slap pass right onto Clutterbuck’s tape as he cut down the slot to tie it.
“You don’t want to go into the break with five, six straight losses,” Aho said. “You could feel it on the bench; everybody decided we’re going to take this game . . . I’m going to remember this night forever, that’s for sure.”