The Islanders entered Sunday’s game looking to make a statement against the hottest team in the NHL and they erased two one-goal deficits to tie the game in the third period. But, it was the Devils that punctuated the win with Brian Rolston’s shootout winner.
The 38-year-old Rolston made a slick move, faking a shot then burying the puck past Islanders goaltender Al Montoya in the 6th round of the shootout to give the streaking Devils a 3-2 win at Nassau Coliseum.
The Devils, at one point this season 27 points out of a playoff spot, inched closer while improving to 20-2-2 over their last 24 games.
With his effortless backhander, Frans Nielsen was the only Islander to beat Devils netminder Martin Brodeur in the shootout. Ilya Kovalchuk and Rolston scored for the Devils in the shootout for a 2-1 edge; the two notched both of New Jersey’s regulation goals as well.
“We wanted to send a message that we are not an easy team to play, not just for this year but for next year as well,” said PA Parenteau, whose shot rung off the crossbar in the second round of the shootout. “This team came in here 19-2-2 with wins in pretty much every building in the league. I thought we gave them a really good game.”
Twice the Islanders knotted the game after falling behind by a goal.
Josh Bailey matched Rolston’s second-period power-play goal with one of his own at 17:06 and Blake Comeau tallied from the slot with less than four minutes remaining in the game to answer Kovalchuk’s right-circle wrister earlier in the third.
“Sometimes it’s the littlest thing that separates it from being quiet in [the dressing room] or having the music playing,” Nielsen said.
It was both Brodeur and Montoya’s first shootout of the season. The 38-year-old veteran prevailed with stops on Parenteau, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and Matt Martin.
“It’s been so long. I was trying to remember the last one,” Brodeur said of his thoughts during the shootout. “It took me one [shooter] to read better the next four or five goals.”
Coach Jack Capuano surprised many when he elected to use gritty third-line grinder Matt Martin in the sixth round before opting for Bailey or rookie standout Michael Grabner, who has 26 goals on the season.
“I’ve used Marty in the shootout in Bridgeport plenty of times,” said Capuano, who also saved Tavares for the fifth round. “It was a gut feeling.”
Brodeur made a nice glove save on Martin and Rolston won it on the other end.
“[Montoya] was moving really good to the backhand side so I thought I’d deke him out and go to the forehand,” Rolston said of his move.
Holding the Islanders to only four shots in the first period, the Devils flashed their trademark, frustrating defense. It was the second straight game the Islanders were limited to 23 shots on goal or less.
But unlike Saturday’s decisive 5-2 win over the Blues, the Islanders couldn’t muster the same offensive outburst against the red-hot Devils.
"I'm sure they're disappointed in there,” Capuano said. “But I saw some good things defensively. I saw guys show some poise. This has to be good for the learning curve moving forward."