You would think the last thing the Islanders needed after a confidence-shaking three-game losing streak would be a matchup against one of the NHL's elite teams -- one that was on an eight-game winning streak. If you did think that, though, you wouldn't be the Islanders.
They saw their game against the Blackhawks Saturday night as a supreme challenge, a cold-team/hot-team comparison that could really take their own temperature. The Islanders answered every challenge and then some, overcoming a late deficit with two clutch goals in the third period and beating Chicago, 3-2, before a packed house at Nassau Coliseum that was anything but lukewarm.
Even Jack Capuano, the coach who avoids hyperbole as if it were mumps, said when asked if this was the best win of the season: "It's close."
He had to add that every game is a challenge. But given the context, this one was something more. The Islanders had looked shaky in the three defeats, allowing 17 goals and squandering three-goal leads in two of them.
"I told our guys, 'We've got to get that attitude, we've got to get the swagger back in our game.' And I think we did that," Capuano said. "If we do the right things, we can compete with anybody."
The right things Saturday night included goalie Jaroslav Halak (23 saves), who bounced back from some uneven performances with a game-changing effort in a scoreless first period. It also included the tying goal by Kyle Okposo on a power-play rebound at 10:10 of the third period and the winner by Lubomir Visnovsky 51 seconds later.
"The team went a little bit down, the confidence went down," Visnovsky said, referring to the losing streak. This time, against this opponent, he added, "We showed everybody we're a good team."
Islanders great Clark Gillies had said of the current players, with whom he skated in the morning, "They have to believe in the fact they are, ability-wise, every bit as good as these teams."
Believing came easier Saturday night. This season's Islanders are characterized more by comebacks than the blown leads of the previous week. They came back twice Saturday night, dramatically.
Cal Clutterbuck made it 1-1 only six seconds after Daniel Carcillo broke a scoreless tie at 14:25 of the second period.
A highlight-clip goal at 3:46 of the third by the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, one of the league's elite players, could have been demoralizing. He took a pass in his own zone, carried the puck and got a head of steam and a step on Visnovsky before lifting a backhander past Halak. "I was mad because I was very close to him. I tried to hit his stick," Visnovsky said.
Ultimately, it was Visnovsky who had the last word. He showed patience as he crossed into the left circle. At just the right moment, he drove a forehand past goalie Scott Darling (38 saves) into the top left corner. And it became a whole different night, a different week.
"They're one of the best in the league and they've proven that all season, especially the past eight games," Okposo said. "They had a winning streak going. I thought we hung in there and took a couple punches. We want to be on a curve that keeps ticking upward, but you're going to have some peaks and valleys in that. But as long as you're getting better as a team throughout the season . . .
"We had to realize we're a good hockey team and get back to playing the way we play. And we did that tonight."