It was a battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division last night at the Nassau Coliseum between the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. The game had all the makings of being one of the best of the regular season. The fans were not disappointed, as the Islanders treated them to a dramatic 6-3 victory led by Kyle Okposo’s career high four goals- three of which came in the third period. The victory gave the Islanders 30 wins on the season, the first team to reach that mark- and surged the Islanders into first place in the division and the Eastern Conference.
The sold-out crowd at the old barn was revved up before the drop of the puck, as the team honored Islanders great Bryan Trottier before the game- whose number 19 hangs in the rafters. The Penguins quieted the rowdy crowd early, grabbing a 2-0 lead just 12 minutes into the game. The Islanders would cut the deficit in half with 3:09 remaining in the opening period thanks to Okposo, who scored the first of his four goals after making a beautiful move and burying a feed from captain John Tavares.
“When I came into the league, my first rookie camp (Trottier) was there,” Okposo said. ”I just kind of picked his brain. The way that he carried himself and still carries himself is something that I really look up to and try to emulate.”
Just past the halfway point of the season, is it time to call this Islanders team elite?
“I’ve always thought from day one – if you want to be an elite team, you have to have the leadership – I think we got it,” Coach Jack Capuano said. “You have to have accountability. I think we got it. I think you have to have the believability and trust in each other and I think they got it.”
Youngster Ryan Strome wasn’t shying away from calling this team elite, either.
“Yeah that’s where we see ourselves,” the 21-year-old center said. “Hopefully some other people start seeing us that way too. We’re confident in our group. We’re on the right track.”
The Islanders got contributions from everyone. In addition to Okposo’s four goals, Strome chipped in a goal, Tavares added three assists and Michael Grabner capped off the night with a goal. All Star goalie Jaroslav Halak had 24 saves. It seemed like every single player played a major role in a win over the team right behind them in the standings.
“I really like this team,” Capuano said. “It’s a close-knit group. They’re playing extremely hard together.
“We don’t want to look back.”
A crowd of 16,170 orange and blue faithful were loud throughout the course of the night. Once they got on the board, the rest was history.
“It was a great crowd tonight,” said Capuano. “I told them before the game, they deserve what they get. The crowd, the energy, feed off one another and feed off the crowd and that’s exactly what we did tonight.”
The NHL’s win leader will be back in action Saturday night in Montreal before a Martin Luther King Day afternoon affair back at the Coliseum. They then get a week to rest before a much-anticipated match-up back home against the rival Rangers.
Something special is brewing in 2015 for the Islanders final season in Long Island. In a night they honored a four-time Stanley Cup champion, the Isles looks to have all the makings of a team that can potentially represent the Eastern Conference this season. This team won’t be saying “Hello” to Brooklyn without a magical “Goodbye” to the place they have called home since 1972.