Jack Capuano made a gutsy call ahead of Tuesday’s Islanders game against the Minnesota Wild starting his third goalie, JF Berube.
But with the NHL coming off its all-star break and Berube having lit up the American Hockey League, Capuano sensed an advantage. It paid off, as Berube made 40 saves for his first NHL win, as the Islanders downed the Wild 5-3 at Barclays Center.
“When I announced it this morning everyone looked at me like I had three heads,” Capuano said. “You just look at his save percentage in Bridgeport. He deserved the start. He played great.”
The final scoreline didn’t highlight Berube’s contribution to the Islanders’ win. The Wild peppered the Islanders with 20 shots in the first period – a season-high – but Berube held them to one goal from Charlie Coyle. The rookie goalie made big stops on proven vets, stopping Zach Parise from 15-feet out and denying Mikko Koivu with a sliding kick save off a one-timer from the slot.
“It’s better that way,” Berube said of the busy first period. “It helped me get in the game really quick and I felt really comfortable out there. It’s always hard to get the first one and I finally have it.”
Berube’s strong first allowed the Islanders, who scored their 10th win when allowing the first goal, to find their footing and take over the game starting with a pair of quick goals in the second period.
Mikhail Grabovski and Anders Lee scored goals 1:47 apart, giving the Islanders a 2-1 edge early in the second period. Grabovski, scoring for the second straight game, joined a John Tavares-Ryan Strome cycle late, but was in the right place at the right time. Grabovski chopped a rebound from the slot past Devan Dubnyk at 3:20. Lee, a native of Edina, Minn., scored shortly after tipping a Travis Hamonic point shot past the Wild netminder.
“That’s where I go all the time and I got rewarded there tonight,” Lee said. “It’s nice to see one of those go in.”
Jason Pominville cashed in on his own rebound to tie the score late in the second period, but another Minnesotan, Warroad’s Brock Nelson, restored the Islanders’ lead with 42 seconds to play in the period. The goal was Nelson’s team-leading 20th, tying his career-high set last season.
Armed with a 3-2 lead, the Islanders started the third period with a purpose. Just like the second, they got a pair of quick strikes, with Frans Nielsen and Tavares scoring 2:03 apart. With Lee setting a screen in front, Nielsen stepped into a slap shot, burying his 15th of the season giving the Islanders a 4-2 lead. Nick Leddy (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Kyle Okposo (St. Paul, Minn.) picked up assists on Nielsen’s goal, giving all four Minnesota-born Islanders a point vs. the Wild.
Tavares followed up shortly after with his 17th of the season, beating Dubnyk short side. Tavares’ goal – the Islanders’ third shot of the period – ended Dubnyk’s night; Darcy Kuemper finished the game for Minnesota.
“When we put our foot on the gas and smelled blood,” Tavares said. “We’ve seen the way we can play. We should have had more, but we just have to keep going, keep trying to get better and keep pushing for another level in our game.”
The win was the Islanders fourth in their last six games, and a pair of important points on a night where Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey picked up points.
“If you look around in our division every night teams are winning and points are tough to come by,” Capuano said. “I thought we played a pretty good game here tonight.”
The Islanders head to Washington D.C. for a date with the Capitals on Thursday night. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m.