Captain Caps Comeback Victory at Barclays with Overtime Clincher
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York interim head coach Doug Weight called it the “biggest goal of the year to date.”
It’s hard to argue with him.
John Tavares’ tally 34 seconds into overtime Tuesday night lifted the New York Islanders to a much-needed 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in front of a sparse crowd of 8,707 fans at Raleigh’s PNC Arena.
After accepting a back pass from fast-emerging rookie Josh Ho-Sang, Tavares wristed the game-winner past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, capping a comeback from an early two-goal deficit and launching the playoff-hungry Islanders (33-25-11) into a virtual tie with Tampa Bay (both teams have 77 points) for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
"No question it was a good character win," noted Tavares after New York snapped a two-game skid and avenged Monday night’s ugly 8-4 loss to Carolina at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
"Good job by everyone staying with it. We easily could have been discouraged and frustrated,” the Isles’ superstar captain added. “But we kept working hard and the game started to turn for us in the second half."
This topsy-turvy season has turned for the Isles, who looked like pretenders following a mediocre first half that resulted in the firing of head coach Jack Capuano and the demotion of starting goalie Jaroslav Halak.
But New York has emerged as one of the more consistent teams in the league in 2017, and will control its own playoff destiny over the final 13 regular-season games.
That did not seem like a likely scenario when the Hurricanes jumped out to a 2-0 lead Tuesday night, but Ho-Sang’s third goal of the season with just over a minute left in the second period was quickly followed by veteran Jason Chimera’s game-tying tally 25 seconds later.
"Those are huge, especially in the last minute of the second period, to get the goals," said Chimera, who upped his season goal total to 17. "Going in 2-2 is a lot different than going in down 2-1."
The late second-period flurry wouldn’t have been possible without Thomas Greiss’ heroics in net.
After coming off the bench to surrender four goals on 20 shots in Monday night’s debacle at Barclays, the German goalie made a series of highlight-reel stops spanning the second and third periods to pave the way for the Isles’ most important win of the campaign.
"You know every time you get lit up or don't have your best game, you want to get back out there right away and erase the memory and have a good comeback," said Greiss, who finished with 25 saves. "They had a couple of good looks there, but at this time of year you need a couple of good saves there and help the team out."
Greiss dove across the crease to save Patrick Brown’s bid for a 3-0 Carolina lead in the second stanza and moments later sprawled on his back to rob Jeff Skinner.
“Thomas gave us a chance to win and we did,” added Weight, who will lead the Isles back into Brooklyn Thursday night for a game against Winnipeg, the opener of a two-game home stand that will conclude Saturday afternoon versus Columbus.
Ho-Sang, whose call-up from AHL Bridgeport was the Isles’ only significant move at the trade deadline, put together his second straight multipoint game, beating Ward to get the Isles started in the second period and feeding Tavares on the clinching OT tally.
"The biggest game of the year,” Weight called the comeback win. "It's going to dictate a lot of what's going to happen the next month."
* * *
Back in Downtown Brooklyn Tuesday night, the Nets survived winter storm Stella, but couldn’t come close to stopping Oklahoma’s Russell Westbrook.
The MVP front-runner scored 25 points, handed out 19 assists and ripped down 12 rebounds for his NBA-leading 33rd triple-double of the season, pacing the Thunder to an easy 122-104 victory over the Nets before 13,911 fans who braved the elements to witness yet another Brooklyn loss.
Brook Lopez scored 25 points and Jeremy Lin, continuing his strong play since returning from a hamstring injury, added a season-high 24 for Brooklyn, which once again failed to post back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
“[Westbrook] had a great game. He picked us apart," Lin said. "He made a lot of great reads and I think for me, it's just a good learning experience being able to go back, watch film and see what he does, see the sets they put us in, how they use their personnel."
Westbrook drew a series of ovations from the Brooklyn faithful throughout the contest, especially when he nailed down his latest triple-double, leaving him just eight shy of Oscar Robertson’s single-season record.
"I thought something happened," Westbrook admitted of his surprise at being cheered so vociferously on an opponents’ home court.
"I was really wondering why they were screaming so loud. I thought that maybe they were giving something out in the crowd or something."
The Nets announced Wednesday morning that they have signed free agent Archie Goodwin to a 10-day contract.
Goodwin, a former first-round pick by Oklahoma City in 2013, has appeared in 153 games in parts of four NBA seasons with Phoenix (2013-16) and New Orleans (2016-17), recording averages of 6.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 14.5 minutes per game.