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Islanders end skid with win over Wild

by John Kreiser
UNIONDALE, N.Y.Blake Comeau and the New York Islanders cost Minnesota two points the Wild couldn't afford to lose.

Comeau scored twice Wednesday night as the Islanders whipped the Wild 4-1 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, keeping Minnesota in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points out of the final playoff berth. It was Minnesota's second loss in three days and its third in four games.

"Obviously, we haven't been good the last couple of games," center Kyle Brodziak said, referring also to Monday's 4-2 home loss to Chicago. "We definitely need more desperation. We're fighting for our playoff lives here."

Kyle Okposo and Andrew MacDonald also scored for the Islanders, who ended a four-game winless streak that included a 2-1 overtime loss at Washington on Tuesday. Frans Nielsen had 3 assists for the Islanders, who snapped a five-game losing streak to the Wild dating to a 3-1 home win on March 19, 2004.

"As for the four-game skid, I didn't think it was an indication of how poorly we played," MacDonald said. "But obviously, it's good to snap that."

The Islanders showed no ill effects from the loss in Washington – a game they led 1-0 until the final minute before losing on a spectacular goal by Alex Ovechkin.

"It was a hard loss," Nielsen said. "We were kind of (angry) about it, and we really wanted this."

Al Montoya stopped 33 shots and lost his shutout bid when John Madden banged in a rebound at 11:33 of the third period for his 10th of the season.

The Islanders outshot Minnesota 41-34, the 56th time in 64 games that the Wild have allowed more shots than they've taken. The Islanders won for just the fourth time in the 25 games in which they had more shots than the opposition.

While the Islanders have been relatively carefree with the playoffs all but out of reach, the Wild came out flat, never recovered – and watched another two points go sailing away.

"Every loss is tough," said goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who allowed three goals on 19 shots before being lifted after Comeau scored on a rebound 41 seconds into the second period. "It's behind us now.  We have to worry about tomorrow (against the Rangers in New York). We have to be better tomorrow."

New York took advantage of its first power play to open the scoring at 10:31, as Comeau finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play. Josh Bailey found Nielsen breaking toward the net; Nielsen, in turn, found Comeau wide-open in the lower-left circle for a one-timer into a half-empty net for his first goal in eight games.

"It's been a drought for him for some time,”"interim coach Jack Capuano said of Comeau. "It was good to get him back on track."

The Islanders made it 2-0 at 18:37 by outworking Minnesota in its own end. Michael Grabner and Nielsen both won battles for the puck before Okposo outfought Marek Zidlicky to free himself in the slot and slid a backhander between Backstrom's legs. For Okposo, a Minnesota native who missed the first half of the season with a shoulder injury, it was his fourth of the season and second in two nights.

"Once we got our legs under us and started doing the right things, we were a pretty good hockey team," Capuano said. "Give credit to the guys – they're battling, they're doing the right things, they're playing within the team concept and they're working hard."

In contrast, Brodziak said of his team, "We weren't playing responsible at all, and they capitalized on their chances. We weren't good."

Comeau ended Backstrom's night with his second of the game. Backstrom stopped Matt Martin's slapper from the left circle with his glove, but the rebound dropped at his feet -- and Comeau beat everyone to it for an easy backhand chip into the net for his 17th of the season, matching his career high.

Coach Todd Richards quickly replaced Backstrom with Jose Theodore.

"It's a rebound. It shouldn't be there," Backstrom said. "I can't leave a rebound like that."

The Wild missed a chance to get back in the game when Trevor Gillies – in his first game back after a nine-game suspension --- was ejected for checking from behind at 2:34 for blasting Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck, who was going to receive a boarding minor. Not only did the Wild not score during the three-minute advantage, they managed only one shot and nearly allowed a shorthanded goal.

Neither Gillies nor Capuano thought Clutterbuck's back was completely turned when the hit was delivered.

"It's up to the League to decide," Gillies said when asked about potential supplementary discipline.

Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner was called for holding the stick of rookie Justin DiBenedetto at 15:41, and the Isles needed just 24 seconds to score their second power-play goal of the night. MacDonald's slap shot from the left point sailed past Theodore with some help from a screen by Bailey for his second of the season and a 4-0 lead after two periods.

To say that Richards was displeased with his team would be putting it mildly.

"There's no excuse to get what we got out on the ice," he said. "We weren't good in a lot of areas. Players that we need to be good weren't good, and at this time of year, when games mean that much, ... it's disappointing."

The Wild have very little time to figure out what's gone wrong this week before visiting the Rangers on Thursday.

"It's frustrating," Brodziak said. "It was a must-win for us, and we didn't get the job done. It makes tomorrow night even that much bigger. We have to stop the slide now and do whatever it takes tomorrow to turn it around."
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