Fortunate Bounce Paces New York to “Gritty” Victory over Wings
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It was just last week that Islanders interim head coach Doug Weight openly questioned his team’s collective toughness on the road.
He was singing a much different tune after the Brooklyn-based NHL franchise kicked off its epic nine-game road trip with a much-needed 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night in front of 20,027 fans at Joe Louis Arena.
"I love the grit," Weight gushed after his team set aside its road woes for at least one night on this three-week odyssey through three time zones. "The guys came together and showed we can be a good road team."
The Isles (28-21-10), who improved to a still-dismal 8-13-4 away from the friendly confines of Downtown’s Barclays Center, moved into a virtual three-way tie with Florida and Boston for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot with 66 points.
But the Bruins currently hold the tiebreaker with two more wins than New York and the Panthers.
Nevertheless, the Isles have to feel enthused after getting the trip off on the right foot as they prepare to visit Montreal on Thursday and Columbus on Saturday before heading further out west for the final six games of their journey.
"This is exactly the start to this trip we needed," said team captain John Tavares, whose 22nd goal of the season early in the third period capped the scoring.
"We're right in the middle of a crazy race, and we need to use these games to create some separation between us and the other teams."
The Isles’ first road win since Feb. 9 might not have transpired without a very fortunate bounce.
Calvin de Haan’s shot from the left circle midway through the second period snapped a 1-1 deadlock, but only after rebounding off Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet’s face, and again off the pad of Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek, who made the initial stop.
"It went off my blocker straight into [Ouellet's] face, and then I lost it. I didn't see it again until it hit my pad,” Mrazek lamented.
Josh Bailey scored a first-period goal by stealing a mishandled puck from Mrazek, and added a nifty assist on Tavares’ game-sealer for New York, which got 26 big saves from netminder Thomas Greiss.
"That was just a great play by Josh," Tavares said. "He created two of our goals with heads-up plays, and that's huge."
"This is huge, because it shows us we can win these road games,” noted Bailey. "Obviously, there's a lot of luck involved there.”
Luck will only get the Isles so far if they hope to return to Barclays on March 13 with a legitimate shot at reaching the postseason for a third consecutive season.
"We got two tough tests coming,” Weight said. “We got Montreal and Columbus. It doesn't get easy.”
"They're all important, but always a good feeling starting with the first one and get some confidence,” added Tavares.
Isle Have Another: Following their visits to Montreal and Columbus this week, the Isles still have stops to make in Dallas (March 2), Chicago (March 3), Calgary (March 5), Edmonton (March 7), Vancouver (March 9) and St. Louis (March 11). The extended trip, necessitated by Barclays hosting the final appearance of the Ringling Brothers Circus here in Brooklyn, is the longest in franchise history. The co-tenant Nets will begin an eight-game trip Friday night in Denver … The Isles welcomed back Cal Clutterbuck following a nine-game absence for a lower-body injury, but the veteran forward found himself back in the locker room after logging nine minutes of ice time with an apparent re-aggravation of the ailment … New York also lost Casey Cizikas to what looked like a hand injury, though the team is listing it as an upper-body injury and has not yet indicated whether the veteran will be back on the ice Thursday in Montreal … The Islanders are 11-4-2 since Weight replaced fired head coach Jack Capuano.
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Even though the Nets are enjoying their annual All-Star break, they could be making some news this week, as teams are likely interested in acquiring some of their more valuable assets, namely swingman Bojan Bogdanovic and center Brook Lopez.
ESPN reported Wednesday that several Eastern Conference contenders are interested in the sharp-shooting Bogdanovic as Thursday’s 3 p.m. EDT trade deadline approaches, namely the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards.
Lopez, who is almost always brought up in trade rumors this time of year, can also be an asset to a title contender if the Nets can strike the right deal for their future.