Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina is congratulated by teammates after scoring during the first period. (CP/Frank Gunn)
Frans Nielsen, the only player in the NHL born and raised in Denmark. Nielsen had never taken a turn in a big-league shootout, but coach Ted Nolan gave him the chance in his ninth game and the five-foot-11, 172-pound stringbean from some place called Herning connected to help give his team a 3-2 victory Tuesday night. "I was pretty nervous," Nielsen said afterwards.
The fourth-liner had been on the ice all of seven minutes 58 seconds in the game. He started with no NHL points and, since his shootout goal doesn't count in the official scoring, he still doesn't have any.
He asked teammate Jeff Tambellini what he should do on his free shot.
"He said, 'Use that backhand.' I went with it all the way," said Nielsen.
He deked Andrew Raycroft and roofed a backhander.
"I didn't even look at the goalie," said No. 51.
Nolan said his assistants Danny Flynn and Dan Lacroix tipped him off about Nielsen.
"The coaches were watching the players do some shootouts (on Monday) and I didn't see it but they said, 'Come down and see this kid on breakaways, he's seven for seven.' So we took the chance of putting him first in the shootout."
Viktor Kozlov got the shootout clincher. Mats Sundin was the only Leaf to get a puck past DiPietro, who stopped Alexei Ponikarovsky and lucked out when Nik Antropov shot into his right leg pad to end the game.
In regulation, Trent Hunter and Miro Satan scored for the Islanders and Pavel Kubina and Bates Battaglia for Toronto.
The Islanders hadn't won in Toronto in 11 previous attempts dating to March 2002.
"It was a huge win for us in what was one of the biggest games we've played this season," said Nolan. "DiPietro was the difference-maker.
"I thought he was sensational."
There is nothing exciting about the way they play, but Nolan gets the most out of what he's got.
These two points moved them even with the Leafs at 62 points in ninth place in the Eastern Conference - two points back of Montreal and the eighth and last playoff qualifying spot.
"We went into this game two points out of a playoff spot and we're still two points out of a playoff spot," said Leafs coach Paul Maurice.
Kind of like being on a treadmill, eh?
"It's a little frustrating but we can't dwell on it," said Battaglia.
Beating a just-as-desperate Toronto team right in Air Canada Centre lent a load of legitimacy to the challenge being mounted by Nolan's team for a post-season berth.
Toronto outshot New York 41-20 through overtime. It was 16-1 in the third period.
"I don't think we can play any better than we did in the third period," said Maurice.
The Islanders' only shot on Raycroft was a harmless slapper from centre.
"When you're able to see the pucks, it's easier to make the saves," said DiPietro. "We're fortunate to get out of here with the two points."
Leafs captain Mats Sundin was as frustrated as his teammates.
"What do you say after a game like that?" asked Sundin, whose seven-game points streak collapsed on his 36th birthday. "We had all kinds of chances to score, chances to win.
"We did a lot of good things and we have to keep working on that."
Both teams have been on a mission to move into the top eight in the East. In their previous 10 games, Toronto had earned points from eight and New York had earned points from nine.
If the Leafs don't make it into post-season play, they'll rue the points they've relinquished on home ice, where they've taken only 27 of a possible 56. Only the Rangers and the Flyers have fewer home points.
"Their goalie had a great game and we didn't bear down on the chances we had," added Sundin. "The biggest thing is to not have a letdown.
"We can't question ourselves. We have to keep doing the good things we did and try to be better on Thursday."
Toronto is at Philadelphia on Thursday.
In the shootout in front of 19,600 spectators, Nielsen dazzled, DiPietro stopped Alexei Ponikarovsky with a right leg save, Raycroft stuck his right foot out to stop a Satan shot, Sundin beat DiPietro with a low wrist shot to the stick side, Kozlov roofed in a backhander, and Nik Antropov shot into DiPietro's right leg pad.
"It was just great playing here," said Nielsen. "I haven't been back here since I got drafted in this rink (in 2002).
"It was something I'd dreamed about for many years - to play in this city - so that was fun."
Notes: On power plays, Toronto was 1-for-2 and New York was 0-for-1 . . . It was Raycroft's 18th consecutive start . . . When Toronto plays at home Saturday against Edmonton, making its first appearance since November 2003, members of the 1967 team that was the last to win the Stanley Cup for Toronto will be honoured in a pre-game ceremony . . . Islanders captain Alexei Yashin missed a seventh straight game with a bum knee . . . Darcy Tucker, who suffered hairline ankle fractures Dec. 26 and played one game before relenting to rehab, has yet to resume skating.