The New York Islanders are growing up in front of our very eyes.
In a game that was being labeled by NHL.com as a matchup between "the two hottest Eastern Conference teams of 2011," both sides lived up to the billing.
Although neither team was able to generate much momentum in the opening period, it became clear that this would be a defensive battle, and it turned out to be a fantastic one.
Brian Rolston broke a scoreless tie in the second frame, launching a slapshot from the point, which sailed past Isles goaltender Al Montoya, giving New Jersey a 1-0 lead.
Such a goal might have crippled the Islanders earlier on in the season, but not anymore.
Josh Bailey found a way to score, wristing one past a sprawling Martin Brodeur to knot the game at 1-1. It was Bailey's fourth goal in the last 11 games.
A failure to convert on a power play early in the third became much more than that, when Ilya Kovalchuk scored, using defenseman Jack Hillen as a screen and putting the Devils back on top 2-1.
Surely that would do it for New York, right?
New York's offense came alive towards the end of the final period, and with three minutes and change left, Blake Comeau wired a shot into the back of the net, tying the score at 2-2 and giving the Coliseum faithful a reason to celebrate.
The Isles would keep the Devils off the board in overtime, but only Frans Nielsen was able to come through in the shootout, and New Jersey came away with the victory in seven rounds, off of goals by Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston.
Aside from the offensive pressure, there were a few other bright spots in this contest.
Al Montoya played one heck of a game, though I'm sure he'll want the Kovalchuk goal back. Denying shooter after shooter in the skills competition, Montoya showed world-class potential, and he certainly gave his team a chance to win.
Travis Hamonic continues to mature. I felt he was the best defenseman on the ice for either team. His biggest contribution came late in the game, when he blocked Ilya Kovalchuk's wrist shot on a two-on-one late in the third period.
The mere fact that these New York Islanders came back twice against the hottest team in the National Hockey League, kept them off the board in overtime and made them use six skaters in the shootout—now that's a sure sign of promise.