UNIONDALE, N.Y. – There have been many low points as the New York Islanders try to become a contending team again in the NHL. For all their frustration, there have been glimpses of a potentially promising future.
John Tavares scored a goal and added an assist, and Evgeni Nabokov made 29 saves to lead the Islanders to a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.
Andrew MacDonald and Brian Rolston also scored for New York (12-17-6), which snapped a three-game losing streak. The Islanders had dropped four in a row at home (0-3-1) since a 5-1 victory against Tampa Bay on Dec. 6.
“We concentrated on what we needed to do,” MacDonald said. “We have to play this way night in and night out.”
Tim Jackman scored the lone goal for the Flames, and Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 31 shots, but Calgary had its four-game winning streak broken.
“Our compete level wasn’t at the level where it needs to be,” Calgary coach Brent Sutter said.
Jackman gave the Flames a 1-0 just 1:11 in by shoving a rebound of Brendan Morrison’s shot, that ricocheted off MacDonald’s skate, past Nabokov.
Kiprusoff and Nabokov, both former San Jose Sharks goalies, then hooked up in a spectacular duel. Nabokov stoned Jarome Iginla on a first period breakaway, and Kiprusoff poke-checked the puck off of Tavares’ stick when he charged in on him late in the second period.
“Nabby’s been like that all season for us,” Tavares said.
The game was unusually chippy for teams from opposing conferences. Both clubs engaged in trash talk after whistles, and emotions boiled over when Lee Stempniak shouldered New York’s Kyle Okposo late in the first period. Matt Moulson raced over to defend his teammate, and a 5-on-5 melee ensued. After the players were separated, Moulson received four minutes for roughing, and Calgary’s Chris Butler was given two minutes in penalties.
“No penalty,” was Stempniak’s assessment of the hit. “Think it was a clean hit. It’s a non-issue.”
New York killed the power play and tied the game 3:04 into the second when MacDonald’s shot from the slot beat Kiprusoff.
“P.A. (Parenteau) picked the puck out of a pile and fed it to me,” MacDonald said. “I got good wood on it.”
The Islanders grew in confidence after the skirmish and the killed power play.
“Their forwards are a good skating group. Their top end guys were good for them,” Sutter said. “Moulson, Tavares and Okposo were the best players on the ice.”
The game stayed tied until Tavares sped down the left wing boards, cut toward the net and tucked the puck past an outstretched Kiprusoff 3:20 into the third to make it 2-1.
Only Moulson has scored more goals this season for the Islanders than Tavares, and only Parenteau has more assists and points. Tavares has 12 goals and 29 points.
“J.T. was really strong,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
Tavares downplayed his big night.
“It’s nice to get a win. We came out hungry,” he said. “Kyle made a great play along the wall (to spring Tavares).”
Rolston added an empty-net goal with 43 seconds left.
The game marked Blake Comeau’s return to Long Island. Calgary claimed Comeau off waivers from the Islanders on Nov. 25. Comeau, who had no points in 16 games this season with New York has two goals and three assists in 17 contests with Calgary.
“It’s not all about me. It’s disappointing not get two points (when) we’re in a playoff race,” said Comeau, who had gone out to dinner with some former Islanders teammates. “I wish nothing but the best for them.”
New York, which outshot the Flames 33-30, was 0 for 1 on the power play. Calgary went 0 for 2.
NOTES: This was the only meeting this season between the teams, who have faced off against each other only six times since the 2004-05 lockout. The Islanders are 5-1 in those meetings, including 3-0 at home. … The Flames are in the midst of a seven-game road trip as Calgary hosts the world junior hockey championship. … The announced attendance was 14,819. … The Islanders got back to .500 in their history, improving to 1,325-1,325-347-80.