“You’re not going to replace Anders Lee, he’s a very unique player. He’s a leader. To me, we’ve done everything by committee for the most part…You’re not going to replace Anders Lee. It’ll take a village to fill the void.”
That was Head Coach Barry Trotz’s pre-game message to the media about what he told his players in the wake of Captain Anders Lee’s injury. And he’s completely right. You’re not going to replace Anders Lee; nor should any of the Islanders players try to do so. Each and every player on the Isles needs to just continue to play their game and good things will happen. Indeed, good things happened Saturday night at Prudential Center as the Islanders used their balanced approach and two shining rookies to beat the Devils 3-2.
Anders Lee’s 295-consecutive games played streak came to an end when this game started (which is third all-time in Isles history) and that means Brock Nelson, who was playing consecutive game number 273, now has the longest active streak on the Islanders.
And to attempt to fill Lee’s skates, Kieffer Bellows was inserted into the lineup for what likely is the beginning of his final chance to impress team management. (He wound up making the most of the opportunity with two-huge third period goals). Bellows took warmups with Barzal’s line in place of Lee in what clearly was an attempt by Trotz to keep as much of the chemistry of his lines intact as he could.
Just moments into the game, Bellows firmly parked himself in front of MacKenzie Blackwood and did everything he could to disrupt the Devils defense on an early Isles power-play. Bellows tried his best to provide the same net front presence Lee always did; and it actually helped lead the Nassaumen to a strong power-play, even though they didn’t convert.
Less than a minute after the Isles power-play expired, Pavel Zacha fired a rather benign wrist-shot towards Semyon Varlamov and the puck darted under Varlamov’s blocker arm for the surprising 1-0 Devils lead. On the play, Nick Leddy and Noah Dobson were back for the Isles, but were caught a little too deep and allowed Zacha too much room to shoot.
Just like that, the Isles early game momentum had been erased and they were put on their heels for several long minutes; even going without a shot on goal for several minutes.
Eventually, the Boys from Long Island started to find their game again and at 17:58 of the first period, just three-seconds after a second failed power-play opportunity, Oliver Wahlstrom tied the game at 1-1 with his wicked wrister.
As the Isles power-play was ticking down, a multi-player collision took out a number of players behind the Islanders’ net; thus allowing Wahlstrom to lead the charge up the ice on a 3-on-2 odd-man rush. Wahlstrom skated the puck into New Jersey’s zone, flew into the slot and let the puck fly — right over Blackwoods’ blocker for the game-tying goal.
At the end of the first period, the score was tied at 1-1 and the Nassaumen were outshooting New Jersey 13-6. However, the Boys from Long Island were already 0-for-2 on the power-play — even though they were 1-for-1 on the penalty-kill — thus continuing their March power-play skid, as well as furthering their power-play woes against the Devils in particular.
The second period began and the Garden Staters took it to the visitors early and often.
Varlamov bailed out his teammates with several key saves in the opening minute of the period; particularly with back-to-back saves on Damon Severson, who Varlamov robbed on the doorstep twice in a span of seconds.
That didn’t last though as at the 1:06 mark of the period, Janne Kuokkanen batted home a loose, bouncing puck for the 2-1 Devils lead. Unfortunately, on the play, Kuokkanen and Josh Bailey both dove for the puck and as it crossed the goal-line, Bailey fell on top of Kuokkanen and had his chin land on Kuokkanen’s skate blade. Bailey went to the Isles’ room moments later to get fixed up and wound up missing roughly 10-minutes of the second period.
After going down 2-1 in the game, the Islanders tried to re-establish their game but a slew of penalties against both teams turned the period into a special teams affair as the Isles and Devils each had two power-play opportunities. And while the Isles went 2-for-2 on the PK (with the second PK stretching 24-seconds into the third period), they failed to convert on any of their own power-play chances; ending the second period 0-for-4 on the man-advantage for the game, which means they had a lot of wasted opportunities to take back control of the game.
In fact, after outshooting the Devils 13-6 in the first period, the Isles were then outshot 19-8 in the second.
So, the teams went to the third period with New Jersey maninting its 2-1 lead and with the Islanders still having those 24-seconds of penalty-kill time left before they could attempt to wrestle back control of the game. The Nassaumen killed off the remainder of the penalty — moving to 3-for-3 on the PK for the game — and then went back on the attack for the first time since arguably the end of the first period.
First came the kid, Kieffer Bellows.
1:59 into the third period, Bellows received a pass from Jordan Eberle in the Isles’ zone and carried it to center-ice before passing the biscuit ahead to Mathew Barzal. Barzal drew Ty Smith and Damon Severson to him and passed the puck back to Bellows, who skated into the slot untouched and unleashed a wrist-shot that beat Blackwood blocker-side for the game-tying goal — 2-2.
The game was now tied, could the Islanders take the lead? Well…
Just 3:11 after Bellows tied the game, he gave the Isles their first lead of the game when he scored his second of the game (and the period) to put New York in front 3-2.
A battle along the near-boards led Bellows to skate along the boards into New Jersey’s zone while attempting to keep the puck away from Nathan Bastian. Bellows gained a step on Bastian and cut hard to the net before putting the puck past Blackwood for the go-ahead goal.
To quote Isles’ MSG Network Play-By-Play man, Brendan Burke, “Well that escalated quickly!”
From that point on, the Islanders did what they do best, they shutdown any and all attempts by the Devils of going on the offensive as they allowed New Jersey a scant four shots on goal for the entire third period.
Then it was just a matter of time before it became official; which it eventually did — 3-2 Islanders the final. For New York, it is their eighth straight win, 11th straight game with at least a point and it marked the end of the first-half of the season; with the Islanders touting an 18-6-4 record through 28-games — good enough for first-place in the Eastern (MassMutual) Division.
The Isles went 0-for-4 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 15-for-70…The Islanders have won eight-straight overall and are riding an 11-game points streak…Brock Nelson’s four-game goal streak and five-game points streak were both snapped…J.G. Pageau’s four-game assist streak was snapped as well…Kieffer Bellows scored two-goals for his first two markers of the season and his second career two-goal game. By the way, he only has four career goals.
Sunday March 14th Islanders at Devils at Prudential Center at 5pm(EST).