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Koskinen stops 37 as Isles beat Habs in shootout

by Arpon Basu /
MONTREAL -- If he could have chosen a place and a way to get his first NHL victory, Mikko Koskinen probably wouldn't have changed a thing.

Kyle Okposo was the only player to connect in the shootout to give Koskinen that milestone win as the New York Islanders came back three times and finally beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 on Thursday night.

With 21,273 Bell Centre fans trying to will their team to a win one night after an emotionally draining loss in Boston, Koskinen remained cool in the highly charged atmosphere -- and even thrived in it.

"I had a lot of fun, it was awesome," said Koskinen, 22. "I would like to play every night in front of this kind of crowd. So much fun."

Koskinen was pressed into last-minute service in his first career start Tuesday when Kevin Poulin because the third Islanders goalie to hit the injured list, injuring his knee in pre-game warmups. Koskinen allowed the first two NHL shots he faced to beat him en route to a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But on this night Koskinen had the time to mentally prepare for the challenge, and it showed.

"It was real tough on him at home with Kevin going down," Islanders interim coach Jack Capuano said. "He had a day and half or two to think about his start tonight, and he just played it simple. He regrouped, he played square to the puck and he didn't try to do too much. He made some key saves for us."

Michael Grabner scored twice and John Tavares had one for the Islanders (18-29-7), who won for only the fifth time in their last 15 games, though they've split six games since the All-Star break and are 6-4-0 in their last 10 on the road.

Koskinen made 37 saves in regulation and overtime, then turned aside all four Canadiens shooters in the shootout to give Okposo a chance to win it -- he did so with a perfect shot that went in off the left post past Alex Auld.

"I wasn't nervous because I knew I'm pretty good in shootouts," Koskinen said. "They don't know me, so it was a little bit easier for me."

Max Pacioretty, Benoit Pouliot and Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens (30-20-6), who are winless in three games.

"We had a pretty good effort, we played well, we just didn't play well enough to win the game," captain Brian Gionta said. "When we had a chance to get them down and out we didn't do it."

The last time the Canadiens went as many as three games without a victory was from Dec. 26-30, after which they reeled off 10 wins in their next 15 games.

Grabner continued forcing himself into a Calder Trophy conversation that has been largely focused on Carolina's Jeff Skinner and San Jose's Logan Couture.

His 18th and 19th goals of the season gave Grabner 10 in his last 12 games after scoring just nine times in his first 40. That puts him just one behind Skinner and four behind Couture for the rookie goal lead. Grabner also moved past Colorado defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk into 10th on the rookie points list with 27.

"He's playing disciplined with and without the puck in all three zones," Capuano said of his burgeoning rookie phenom, who won the fastest skater competition during All-Star Weekend. "I think when you have a player who does that he's going to have his chances offensively. He's in the right spot at the right times."

As hot as Grabner's been for the Islanders, Tavares has been just as cold. His 19th of the season snapped a season-worst 10-game goalless drought, though he had seven assists over that span.

"I'd love to score on every shot in every game I play, but obviously that's a little unrealistic," Tavares said. "But I felt I was creating opportunities for my linemates and they were scoring a few. It's what I love to do, it's what I do best. It's just nice to get one in a win, and it was an important one at the time."

After playing in their most emotional and physically taxing game of the season one night earlier, an 8-6 loss to the rival Bruins in Boston that featured six fights and 182 penalty minutes, the Canadiens saw the other side of the passion spectrum in this game.

"I think there were probably some elements of fatigue," coach Jacques Martin said. "We made some mental mistakes that might have been caused by fatigue."

Neither team appeared overly motivated until Grabner tied the game with his second of the night at 4:08 of the third.

The intensity rose a few notches after that, but it didn't produce a go-ahead goal in regulation. Matt Moulson came about as close as you can come, however, when he pounced on a turnover by former teammate James Wisniewski in the Canadiens end but rang his shot off the post with just 41.2 seconds left in the third.

The best chance to end it in overtime came off the stick of Scott Gomez with just under seven seconds left, but Koskinen made a nice glove grab to send it to the shootout.

The first period had zero flow with seven minor penalties called - four for tripping - but neither team capitalizing on the power play.

Pacioretty scored for the third time in two games to open the scoring at 14:10 of the first, but Tavares tied it 1:25 later with his 19th of the season on a nifty roof shot.

After Pouliot scored at 5:49 to put Montreal back up 2-1, Grabner scored a thing of beauty at 17:10 when he split Montreal defensemen P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek before slipping it through Auld's legs.

The tie score lasted less than a minute, however, when Plekanec looked at Andrei Kostitsyn the whole way on a 2-on-1 break before firing a no-look shot through Koskinen's legs at 18:08. The goal gave Plekanec 300 points in 448 career games.

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