USA hopeful Okposo lifts Islanders to a Wild comeback


Happy Cal: Cal Clutterbuck celebrates his goal in his return to Minnesota.  Getty Images/Andy Clayton-King

Happy Cal: Cal Clutterbuck celebrates his goal in his return to Minnesota.
Getty Images/Andy Clayton-King

In hockey terms, the dreaded three-goal lead is one you don’t want. The Wild learned it the hard way falling to a resilient Islanders 5-4 in St. Paul. Ironically, it was home native Kyle Okposo who did them in. The 25-year old USA Olympic hopeful scored twice over a 1:59 span including the game-winner with 5:48 left in regulation to lead the Islanders to a deserved come from behind win.

The Isles dug out of a 3-0 hole to stun Minnesota. After getting the only goal in the first period from defenseman Ryan Suter, goals from Jonas Brodin and former Islander Nino Niederreiter had the Wild in front 3-0 less than three minutes into the second. But the Isles fought back thanks to goals from captain John Tavares (14th) and former Wild Cal Clutterbuck, who scored with 1:02 remaining to make it a contest. Last offseason, he was traded for Niederreiter. Kind of ironic that they both figured in the scoring.

From an Islanders standpoint, it was Clutterbuck’s goal that provided a spark. The former Minnesota antagonist got his fifth from Thomas Hickey and Brock Nelson. An emotional lift for a popular ex-Wild in his return. Following Thomas Hickey squeezing home his second past Josh Harding, Okposo made it four consecutive Islander goals when he blew one past Harding from Hickey and Andrew MacDonald. That was a story in itself with Harding returning after spending a week on injured reserve due to adjustments in his medication for multiple sclerosis. He entered with the best GAA and save percentage. Perhaps some rust showed. Not that the Isles were complaining.

Just when they finally seemed to have a handle on things, Justin Fontaine got to a loose puck in front and beat backup Kevin Poulin 1:32 later to tie it 4-4 with 6:15 left. But before exciting Wild fans could settle back into their seats, there was Okposo once more burning them when he steered home a Thomas Vanek rebound for the game decider with 5:48 remaining. It got interesting with rookie Calvin de Haan forcing the Isles to kill a penalty. But Frans Nielsen drew a hooking minor with 2:31 to go allowing his team to kill most of the clock.

It added up to a nice road win for the Islanders that came on the heels of another tough defeat. They lost to the Devils the other night on an odd Travis Zajac goal that bounced off his chest. If you’ve seen them this year, that’s been the norm for the Islanders. At least on this night, they showed some gumption rallying from a big deficit to leave a bitter taste in their opponents’ mouths.

“It was there for us. That’s the disturbing part,” frustrated Wild coach Mike Yeo lamented. “It’s hard to find the words for this because this is beyond disturbing right now.

“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 kept chipping away and kept chipping away,” Okposo said. “We were down 3-0, and kind of regrouped. We decided to go after them and start moving our feet.

“For the first 22 minutes we weren’t doing that, so we decided to get pucks deep and go to the net.”

The Islanders improved to 12-4-2 when they score at least three goals. Conversely, they’re 0-17-5 when they net two or fewer.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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