By Adam Brady
ANAHEIM – Despite taking the ice without their captain, leading scorer and No. 1 goalie, the Ducks showed their team is much more than just those three standouts tonight against the visiting Islanders.
Anaheim came roaring back from a sluggish start to carry the game into overtime but failed to earn the extra point when New York notched the game-winner 2:18 into the extra session. Following a Sami Vatanen elbowing penalty, the Isles converted on the ensuing 4-on-3 power play as John Tavares scored his second of the night from the high slot.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry sat out tonight’s game with flu-like symptons, the first time both were out of a Ducks lineup due to injury or sickness since March 28, 2008. Meanwhile, goalie Frederik Andersen served as the backup to starter Jason LaBarbera, as Andersen continues to recover from leg stiffness.
"I don’t think we started very well, but we came back again, which is good," said Matt Beleskey, who had a big second-period goal and nearly the go-ahead in the third. "We fought pretty hard and we played hard despite missing a few key guys. It’s tough losing on a penalty kill in overtime, but that’s the way it is."
The last time “the twins” both missed a game due to injury, Getzlaf had a shoulder ailment and Perry had a lacerated quad. Both were held out of the lineup as healthy scratches in last year’s regular season finale.
The absence of Getzlaf, Perry and Andersen just added to Anaheim’s lengthy list of wounded warriors, as the Ducks continued to be without defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Bryan Allen, winger Kyle Palmieri and goalie John Gibson.
The Islanders displayed their lack of sympathy early, getting on the board just 3:38 after the opening draw when Tavares banged in a rebounding puck that hit LaBarbera on the left hip before diving into the net.
Any hopes of evening things up in the second were quickly dashed just 10 seconds into the period when Kyle Okposo nailed the top corner with a wrist shot on the edge of the left circle
"We were a little tentative. Guys weren’t really sure, and it was almost like we were playing for a tie," Beleskey said. "Once we got over that, we played a lot better."
The Ducks at one point were buried by a 19-5 shot advantage 6:41 into in the second, and charged back to outshoot the Isles 29-17 the rest of the way.
Anaheim cut the lead in half on the power play near the halfway point of the period when Ryan Kesler made a nice feed near the goal mouth to Beleskey, who redirected it just inside the left post.
That clearly shifted the momentum of the game, as the Ducks controlled the puck for most of the remainder of the period and came away with a plethora of scoring chances. They finally tied it with just over a minute left when Emerson Etem got his first of the year on a shot from the slot that sailed through a Devante Smith-Pelly screen before tickling the twine.
"With the team we have, we always shoot for two points every night," Etem said. "Anything less than that is a little bit of a letdown. We were missing two of our leaders, but I thought the guys were resilient. If we played like we did in the second half of the game for the full 60, we would’ve had a different outcome. "
Nevertheless, the Ducks appeared to take the lead early in the third when Beleskey one-timed the puck into goalie Jaroslav Halak, who was then slammed into by his own defenseman, Travis Hamonic, who took the puck with him before both knocked the net off its supports. But replays showed the puck was just outside the post before the net was dislodged, and after a lengthy review, the call on the ice was reversed.
That close call smarted even more when Tavares connected in OT, as his shot deflected off an Anaheim defender before sneaking under LaBarbera.
"I thought we were quite determined the last half of the game," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "For the first half of the game, we were sitting around thinking Woe is me. A lot of teams are going through this, so we have to get better. That first goal really livened us up a bit."
The Isles snapped a four-game losing streak with the win, just the fourth defeat of the year for league-leading Anaheim and the second at home. The Ducks look to bounce back Friday night vs. the Coyotes at Honda Center.
"We didn’t quit, we played a good team undermanned, and we played hard," Boudreau said. "If the same thing happens on Friday, at least we’ve gone through it. Now we know we can do it."