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Islanders rally to defeat Wild

The SportsXchange

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- New York Islanders right winger Kyle Okposo didn't make it home for Christmas, but his pre-New Years' visit to his hometown went better than he might have hoped.

Playing before plenty of friends and family, Okposo scored twice in the third period as the Islanders rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4. Okposo got his 13th and 14th goals of the season just minutes apart, handing Minnesota its first home loss of the month.

"It was a good one to leave the hometown fans with," said Okposo, who played a season at the University of Minnesota before jumping to the pro ranks. "I heard about five or six cheers in the audience when I scored, but it's nice to come home and get a win like that."

Center John Tavares, right wing Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Thomas Hickey also scored for the Islanders (12-21-7), who trailed by three goals midway through the game but had forged a 3-3 tie less than seven minutes into the final period. Kevin Poulin had 33 saves for New York.

"We changed a few things, we adjusted to a few things," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "I thought our guys executed what we were trying to do and the will and the work ethic was there in the third. Obviously in the first we just stood around watching too much."

Defensemen Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin, and right wingers Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine scored for Minnesota (20-16-5), which lost its fifth game in a row. Wild goaltender Josh Harding, who had missed the team's four previous games due to injury, returned to the net and had 26 saves. The Wild had lost just three times at home this season, and seemed stunned by the collapse.

"Don't ask me for the words because I've been thinking about it since the game ended and I can't find a word to describe the feeling right now," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "They scored the second goal and we stopped playing. Believe me, it's our job to find explanations, but holy cow, that's a tough one to find an explanation for. There's no reason, there's no excuse for what happened tonight."

Minnesota opened the game with eight unanswered shots on goal, and the last of them reached the back of the net. After a scramble in front of Poulin, Suter corralled a loose puck 20 feet out from the crease and lifted a wrist shot into the upper left corner. It was Suter's first goal of the season.

The Wild dominated the first period, out-shooting the Islanders 16-8, but could not build on their lead until the opening shift of the second period. That's when Brodin's long shot from the blue line was knocked down by Poulin but trickled over the line for a 2-0 Minnesota lead. Just a short time later, Niederreiter made it 3-0, scoring his seventh of the season.

Tavares answered for the Islanders with his team-leading 14th goal of the season, getting New York on the scoreboard when he slapped home a Thomas Vanek shot that had deflected off a Wild skate and was loose in the crease next to Harding. With just over a minute left in the second period, Clutterbuck pulled the Islanders back within a goal, tipping a shot by Hickey past Harding.

"At some point, I feel like we stopped playing the way we should be playing, made too many hope passes and hope plays," said Niederreiter, who was playing against his former team for the first time. "That cost us the game."

There was a brief scrap at the final buzzer involving several players from both teams, but no penalties were assessed.

NOTES: Islanders C John Tavares' time on the shelf was brief. He missed Saturday's home loss to the Devils with a lower-body injury, snapping a streak of 246 consecutive games played, but was back in the starting lineup on Sunday. ... Wild fans gave Islanders RW Cal Clutterbuck a loud ovation in the first period when he was acknowledged on the video board. Clutterbuck played five seasons in Minnesota and was a fan favorite. He was traded to the Islanders last summer for RW Nino Niederreiter. ... Wild D Ryan Suter's first-period goal was his first since April 7 last season at Columbus. He had gone 50 games without finding the back of the net. ... Sunday evening's sellout crowd of 18,851 at the Xcel Energy Center included the 10 millionth fan to attend a Wild home game. Since their NHL debut with a preseason game on Sept. 29, 2000, the Wild have hosted 494 regular-season games, 36 preseason games and 15 playoff games. ... The Islanders return to the East Coast and will play the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday evening. Minnesota, in the midst of a four-game homestand, hosts the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.
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