NEW YORK – Again and again, the Islanders stormed into the Wild’s zone in the first period to swarm the net with bodies and pucks — pressure that made it look like only the visitors were finishing off a back-to-back Sunday when this was also the second game for the hosts in as many days.
“We were defending way too much, especially in the first half of the game,” winger Zach Parise said. “It felt like they didn’t even need to scrape the other end. It was too much time in our own zone.”
And yet less than a minute into the second, both teams were even.
But the lift the Wild received from a Mikael Granlund power-play goal quickly evaporated.
That’s because a penalty only 50 seconds later gave New York an extra attacker, and the Metropolitan Division leaders capitalized for 2-1 victory in front of an announced 13,825 at Barclays Center.
The decision gave the Wild a weekend split and kept it in the second wild-card spot; it fell from the first slot following a win by the Blues earlier in the day.
Both teams have 59 points, but St. Louis has two games in hand.
“We get the momentum and then all of a sudden, it’s turned right around,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That happens so often to this team, whether the penalty is warranted or not.”
Granlund broke a 14-game goal drought with his first tally since Jan. 7 only 38 seconds into the middle period. He buried a setup from winger Jason Zucker near the back post before Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss had time to reset to that side.
“That was a great pass,” said Granlund, who has three goals in his past 39 games. “I had a wide-open net.”
An ensuing holding penalty by defenseman Anthony Bitetto on winger Jordan Eberle, however, put the Wild back in defense mode and at 2:01, Islanders defenseman Devon Toews converted on a one-timer.
“Those things happen,” Bitetto said. “It’s a war out there. That’s going to happen. It’s a battle in front, and ref made a call.”
A parade to the penalty box the rest of the period also didn’t help the Wild’s bid to rally.
“It was not nearly enough zone time or scoring chances,” Parise said.
Overall, the team put the Islanders on the power play six times. The Wild finished 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
“We never want to end up killing that many penalties,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 32 saves. Greiss had 26. “It’s tough to keep them out. And also, that’s a lot of time you’re not able to be in the other end to try and score, too. Some games go that way.”
Dubnyk was busy early, turning aside 14 shots in the first period. The only one that got by him was a breakaway finish by winger Anthony Beauvillier that squeaked through five-hole at 14:05.
Although Dubnyk had reprieves, the Wild struggled to sustain a push in the Islanders’ end. And when it did get New York scrambling, twice in the waning minutes, the team couldn’t beat Greiss — an unevenness in its play that that was typical of the Wild’s trajectory this entire season.
“You can’t win against a good team playing a period and a half,” Boudreau said. “That’s what we played, a period and a half. And when you take six minors, that puts a lot of strain on certain individuals that are playing. So it makes it difficult. We can talk about it all you want. But in the end, if you play for 60 minutes, we probably win that game. But we didn’t.”