UNIONDALE, N.Y. – All eyes were on former New York Islanders goalie Roberto Luongo. All the cheering and name chanting rained down on the new guy – backup Joey MacDonald.
After all, he was the one who came up big at the end Monday night. Luongo made 34 saves against the team that let him get away eight years ago, but couldn’t stop Frans Nielsen in a shootout as the Islanders beat the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 for their season-best third straight victory.
Nielsen scored on the first shot of the tiebreaker, and MacDonald turned aside all three Vancouver shooters – ending the game with a poke check against Alex Burrows. MacDonald stopped 31 shots through overtime.
“You don’t want to give up too many goals against a guy like that,” MacDonald said of Luongo. “We found a way to get two points, and that’s the main thing.”
The Islanders (7-9-2) built off back-to-back wins against the Ottawa Senators, and are ahead of three teams in the East after sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings for much of the season.
Nielsen beat Luongo with a backhander over his glove.
“He’s a big guy, so you have to get the puck up,” Nielsen said.
Luongo, the Canucks captain, could’ve been the Islanders’ prized possession after he was taken No. 4 in the 1997 draft. He appeared in 24 games with New York during the 1999-2000 season, but was traded when the team made goalie Rick DiPietro the face of the franchise.
DiPietro is expected to be out a few weeks following knee surgery, and has played only three games this season. MacDonald is 7-6-2 in his place.
“When the game is on the line … that’s what you want your goalie to do – make those big saves,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “Just like the other guy in their net had some pretty big saves on us.”
Luongo kicked off Vancouver’s four-game road trip with his 13th straight start and 17th in 18 contests.
Pavol Demitra gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead in the opening minute, and it stood up until Doug Weight tied it with a power-play goal in the second period.
Luongo is on an amazing run, one that recently featured a team-record shutout streak of 242 minutes, 36 seconds. During the just-completed homestand, Luongo went 4-1-1 and allowed only six goals – five on power plays.
Tim Jackman, who had three prime scoring chances on Luongo in the second period, drew the penalty the Islanders turned into their goal. Jackman stole the puck from Mason Raymond while New York was short-handed and skated in alone. Raymond slashed him from behind just before he got off a drive.
On the power play, Weight moved the puck from the left point down to captain Bill Guerin, who returned it. Weight let go a hard drive that appeared to hit the stick blade of defenseman Shane O’Brien before finding its way past Luongo with 5:25 left.
It was the first goal Luongo allowed before the third period in six games, dating to his previous regulation loss Nov. 2 against Detroit. Luongo rebounded with three straight shutouts and two outings in which he allowed a total of three goals before Monday. He lost a 2-1 shootout to Colorado last Wednesday.
“All losses are tough,” Luongo said. “Shootouts are great when you win, and (not) when you lose. I don’t like losing any game.”
The Islanders outshot the Canucks 10-0 early in the middle period, in which they enjoyed three power plays, and 18-10 overall in the frame. For a while, it seemed as though New York might become Luongo’s latest shutout victim.
Less than five minutes into the second, Luongo flashed his left pad to kick out a good shot by Sean Bergenheim, and then denied Jackman seconds later after the forward was set up on the doorstep.
MacDonald was sharp, too, as he gets more comfortable in the starting role in place of DiPietro – the man the Islanders drafted No. 1 overall in 2000 on the day they traded Luongo to Florida.
MacDonald made his eighth straight start and 11th in 12 games. Just 12 seconds in, he turned aside a 2-on-1 and had to avoid teammate Andy Hilbert, who crashed into the net and then had the cage fall on top and trap him inside.
The Canucks kept coming and grabbed a 1-0 lead at 49 seconds when Demitra took a return pass in the right circle from Daniel Sedin and fired in his third goal in his eighth game.
“You don’t want to do that, but you’ve just got to concentrate on not giving up number two,” MacDonald said. “We responded really well. It took until overtime and a shootout to get the second point, but that’s hard work.”
Notes: Islanders D Andy Sutton played in his 500th NHL game. … Canucks D Alex Edler, who missed Saturday’s game against Toronto because of the flu, sat out again. Edler scored the decisive shootout goal on Jan. 8, the last time these teams met. The Canucks hadn’t played on Long Island since Jan. 14, 2006.