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Okposo, Islanders rally from 3-0 hole to beat Wild

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Kyle Okposo came up big in his hometown.

The St. Paul native scored twice in the third period, including the game-winner with 5:48 left in regulation, to help the New York Islanders overcome a three-goal deficit and beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on Sunday night.

New York, which has won three of five games, scored twice in the second period and three times in the third to win after trailing by three goals for the first time since March 22, 1994, against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Okposo put the Islanders ahead for the first time at 12:13 of the third period when he blasted a slap shot from the right circle past Josh Harding. Justin Fontaine banged in a rebound at 13:45 to tie the game at 4-4, but Okposo put the Islanders ahead to stay 27 seconds later with a wrist shot from just outside the crease.

"It was a good one to leave the hometown fans with," Okposo said. "I heard about five or six cheers in the audience when I scored, but it's nice to come home and get a win like that."

It was a tough pill to swallow for the Wild, who lost their fifth straight game and blew a three-goal lead against a team that lost at home Saturday before making the lengthy flight to the Twin Cities.

"It was there for us. That's the disturbing part. It's hard to find the words for this because this is beyond disturbing right now," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We have to find a way to win that game. You're up 3-0 and you're at home. There's no excuses. We just have to get it done. It's as simple as that. Don't ask me for the words because I've been thinking about it since the game ended and I can't find a word to describe the feeling right now."

Yeo wasn't alone.

There weren't many answers in Minnesota's dressing room after the stunning collapse. Playing at home for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Wild were primed to snap their losing skid against an Islanders team that's last in the Metropolitan Division. Minnesota entered the game 14-3-2 at Xcel Energy Center this season.

"Of course it's tough. We're up 3-0 at home, and … I really don't know," captain Mikko Koivu said. "There's no explanation. That just can't happen."

The Islanders began their comeback on a goal by captain John Tavares, who missed New York's 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday with a lower-body injury. Thomas Vanek wheeled around the Wild net and flipped the puck in front. It deflected off Wild defenders into the top of the crease, where Tavares tapped it in for his 14th of the season.

"We had probably 12 Grade A chances against New Jersey and only got a goal, so it's important when you have your captain back, not only for his play but for the room as well," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "There's a difference in our hockey team when he's in the lineup."

Minnesota killed off a holding penalty against Mikael Granlund at 15:49, but could not clear the puck. After several blocked shots and failed clearing attempts, the puck came free at the point to Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey, who wristed a shot toward the net that was deflected by former Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck and went past Harding.

Both sides agreed that Clutterbuck's goal, his fifth, was the turning point.

"When we made it 3-2 there, having the shift that those guys had, we knew that we could go after them and continue to go after them in the third," Okposo said. "We came out and I thought we did a good job dictating the play."

"They scored the second goal, and we stopped playing," Yeo said. "Believe me, it's our job to find explanations, but holy cow, that's a tough one to find an explanation for."

Hickey, who had a goal and two assists, tied the game at 3-3 on a pretty redirection in the slot at 6:30 of the third.

"At the end of the second period, we had some really good zone time, and you could just feel it in the building that the tide was turning and we were coming and we were going to get a good chance to win it," Hickey said.

The Wild completely dominated the first period and grabbed the lead when Ryan Suter scored his first goal of the season 3:22 into the game.

Minnesota's domination continued into the second period. Jonas Brodin's seventh goal of the season 39 seconds after the opening faceoff came a little more than two minutes before Nino Niederreiter, acquired in the offseason trade that sent Clutterbuck to the Islanders, made it 3-0 on a wrist shot from the slot. Niederreiter also had an assist on Brodin's goal.

"The first and third goal, we just mismanaged the puck," Capuano said. "We turned it over and gave them point-blank chances right in front of [goalie Kevin Poulin]. That was what happened early on, but we stayed with it. We changed a few things, we adjusted to a few things. I thought our guys executed what we were trying to do and the will and the work ethic was there in the third. Obviously, in the first, we just stood around watching too much."

Koivu's assist on Brodin's goal was the 300th of his career. He's the first player in Wild franchise history to reach the 300-assist mark.

The Islanders found their legs after Niederreiter's goal.

“It’s fun to get a win like that,” Okposo said. “We kept chipping away. We were down 3-0 and we just regrouped and decided we were going to go after them and start moving our feet. In the first 22 minutes we weren’t doing that.”

The game was a rare clunker at home for Harding, who entered the night with the NHL's best goals-against average (1.51) and had been 17-2-0 in his past 19 home starts. He was making his first start since Dec. 17 after missing four games while adjusting his medication for multiple sclerosis.

"I'm not concerned," Yeo said of Harding. "It's one game and he's been great for us all year. ... I'm sure he'll bounce back."

Poulin made 33 saves to improve to 5-12-0 this season. The victory was his first since a 46-save performance in a 3-2 shootout win at the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 10 and only his second in his past nine starts.

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