Jack Capuano said he didn’t want to get in a shootout with the Dallas Stars, the NHL’s best and highest-scoring team, on Sunday, but as soon as the puck dropped both teams said “draw!”
Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Okposo each scored two goals, as the Islanders beat the Stars at their own game, winning 6-5 in a thriller on Sunday evening at Barclays Center.
“I think we are a good enough team that we can compete with anybody,” Clutterbuck said of beating the NHL-leading Stars. “We’ve shown that already and we’ve proved that to ourselves. When these games come along, it’s the confidence that we have in ourselves to go out there and win those games.”
Special teams played a crucial role in the win, as the Islanders scored a pair of power-play goals, as well as a shorthanded marker, which held up as the game-winner. The Islanders were on the wrong end of the same statline on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, so Sunday’s game further underscored the importance of special teams.
“It’s such an integral part of the game,” Capuano said. “Last night and tonight it was a big factor in the outcome of the game.”
The Stars gave the Islanders ample time to work with the man advantage Sunday, sending the Isles to a pair of extended power plays. With Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin were both in the box for a pair of high sticks in the first period, Anders Lee took advantage of the extra room on the ice, skating out of the corner and tucking a backhand through Kari Lehtonen’s five-hole at 10:34. Lee’s sixth tied the game at one.
After Patrick Sharp and Okposo exchanged even-strength goals, the Islanders used another power play – a five-minute boarding major on Jason Demers, who delivered a dangerous hit to a kneeling Clutterbuck – to take the lead. Okposo scored his second of the game, lunging at Lee’s rebound and shooting it past Lehtonen at 8:13 of the second period.
“The power play came up pretty big today,” Okposo said. “We didn’t hurt ourselves with any of them. We were able to get a lot of shots and a lot of chances. On a power play that’s a big thing, even if you don’t score.”
The Islanders carried the momentum through the rest of the period and were rewarded twice near its end. First, Ryan Strome feathered a pass through the crease to Mikhail Grabovski, who tapped in his sixth of the season at 15:02. Clutterbuck, who returned in the second after absorbing the big hit from Demers, got poetic justice, rifling home his eighth of the season at 17:43, putting the Islanders up 5-2.
Valeri Nichushkin scored the first of his two goals at 1:46, making it a 5-3 game. Clutterbuck reestablished the Islanders’ three-goal lead with a shorthanded marker at 9:53, but Nichushkin’s second came less than a minute later, making it a 6-4 game.
Jason Spezza made things interesting, scoring with 1:42 to play, but Thomas Greiss – who laid out for a glove save with 38.7 to play – and the Islanders held on for the win.
“They got desperate at the end and started throwing everything at the net and got a couple bounces,” Clutterbuck said. “But overall I thought we played really well, we tracked the puck hard, we managed the puck for the most part pretty well, which is something you have to do against a team that has that much offense.”
Greiss finished the game with 36 saves, while Lehtonen allowed six goals on 44 shots in the loss. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who entered the game as the second-and-third leading scorers in the league, were each held without a point. With two assists, Nick Leddy extended his point streak to five games.
With the NHL’s best team in their review, the Islanders welcome the Eastern Conference leading Washington Capitals to Barclays Center on Thursday, a much-anticipated rematch of last year’s playoff series.
Capuano: Islanders' Power Play Was Excellent vs. Stars
Okposo Discusses Win Over Dallas
Lee, Cizikas & Clutterbuck React to Victory Over Stars