UNIONDALE, N.Y. – For the first time in nearly three weeks, laughter and smiles were the order of the day for the New York Islanders. That's what can happen when you steal a win to end a seven-game losing streak.
Mark Streit tied the game with 11.1 seconds left in regulation and John Tavares got the winner in the shootout as the Islanders ended their drought with a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Rookie Matt Martin got two assists in his NHL debut and Martin Biron stopped 24 shots in his first NHL appearance since Dec. 27, then made three saves in the shootout for his first win since beating Carolina on Nov. 13.
"It felt good. It's been a while," a smiling Biron said in a statement that could have applied to his 19 teammates as well. "It was one of those games where I was trying to get myself in a rhythm. The guys definitely came through with some key plays at a key point of the game."
Coach Scott Gordon was delighted for Biron, who was 2-11-2 entering the game and had been the odd man out in the Isles' goaltending troika over the last month.
"We're obviously happy for Marty," he said. "I don't think you could ask for a better teammate. He's deserved a better fate than what he's had this year."
It was the Isles' first win since a 2-1 shootout victory over Florida on Jan. 21. They haven't won in regulation since beating New Jersey 4-0 on Jan. 18.
For his efforts, Martin earned himself the hard hat awarded to the team's hardest-working player. One of his assists came on Streit's game-tying tally.
"It felt great," Martin said of his first two NHL points. "The second goal was kind of a blur. I saw Streit open there and he made a great shot."
Gordon, who has been looking for someone to create traffic in front of the net, was gushing after Martin's first NHL game.
"I went to Bridgeport (the Isles' AHL affiliate) two weeks ago, and the first thing that jumped out at me was Matt's willingness to go to the net," he said. "Whether it's 5-on-5 or a power play, he's willing to go there. He can get himself an opportunity to play on the power play because he's willing to do that."
The lost point didn't sit well with Nashville coach Barry Trotz, who saw his team take three penalties after grabbing a 3-2 lead on Steve Sullivan's power-play goal 4:12 into the third period. The third one, a boarding call against Martin Erat with 46 seconds left, led to Streit's game-tying 6-on-4 goal.
"You have the game with a few seconds (left); we had momentum and the lead, we just shot ourselves in the foot," he said. "We were the ones who took a penalty, gave them momentum. Every time we started building momentum we took it away by a penalty or a decision. They hung around, we couldn't get it done and they won in a shootout. We have no one to blame but ourselves."
The single point gives the Predators 67, moving them into seventh in the West on a tie-breaker with Calgary, a 3-2 loser at Ottawa.
Trotz said he was leery of going against the Islanders in the penalty-shot competition – the Isles are now 7-5 in shootouts, largely because of their shooters. Frans Nielsen scored in the first round for the Islanders, and after Erat tied it in the third, Tavares snapped home the winner.
"They've got six guys over 50 percent on the shootout," he said. "I knew that we didn't want to go there."
After Tavares scored in the fourth round, Biron barely got enough of his pad on Patric Hornqvist's shot to keep in from going over the goal line.
Sullivan put the Preds ahead when his one-timer from the left faceoff dot zipped past Biron for a power-play goal. But with Biron on the bench for an extra attacker, Streit's wrister from the right point sailed through traffic and past a screened Rinne. It was the second power-play goal for the Islanders, who hadn't had one in their previous five games.
The Islanders had scored just 9 goals in their previous seven games. Their first two goals on 11 goals on Tuesday came from defensemen: Freddy Meyer and Bruno Gervais sandwiched scores around goals by Nashville's Cal O’Reilly and Joel Ward during an up-and-down second period.
Rinne stopped 29 shots for Nashville. Biron, who made his first NHL appearance since Dec. 27, made 24 saves for the Islanders, who hadn't beaten Nashville since Oct. 5, 2002.
After a scoreless first period, Biron got a break in the first minute of the second when Jason Arnott's rocket from the left circle hit his stick, popped in the air behind him and landed just over the crossbar on the back of the net. The Isles then picked up their play and began generating chances.
Meyer put them ahead 5:10 into the second. After several solid shifts, Rob Schremp carried down the right side into the Nashville zone, pulled up at the half boards and slid a pass to the onrushing Meyer, who blew a wide-open 30-foot slapper past Rinne for his second of the season.
But Biron's inability to control another routine shot cost him midway through the period. He gloved but couldn't hold J.P. Dumont's wrister from the high slot. As it had 10 minutes earlier, the puck popped into the air – but this time, the Isles' defense couldn't clear and O'Reilly knocked it into the net for his first of the season at 10:35.
Nashville then capitalized on a bad line change to take the lead at 13:51. Jerred Smithson's pass sprung Ward on a breakaway, and he swept across the crease and deked the goaltender before sliding a forehand shot past him. It was Ward's 12th of the season and fourth in five games.
New York tied the game with 56.3 seconds left in the period. The Isles got a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:40 when Smithson was called for interference at the offensive blue line at 17:21 and Shea Weber was sent off for cross-checking 20 seconds later. Rinne stopped Schremp's rip from the right circle, only to have Gervais race in from the left point and slam home the rebound from the slot.