The New York Islanders overcame an early two-goal deficit, scoring six of the last seven goals to win 7-4 over the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first road game of the season Thursday. Michael Grabner (two goals, one assist) and Brad Boyes (one goal, two assists) posted three points, while Matt Moulson scored twice as the Islanders improved to 2-1-0 on the season.
Following a sluggish opening period that left the Islanders trailing 3-1, the team rallied to score five consecutive times as their endurance showed against a Toronto team playing the second leg of a back-to-back.
“For me it's about playing the way we have to play and we didn't do that in the first period,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We turned pucks over and we didn't have any discipline in our decision making. We talked to this group early on and said that they have to take some ownership in this room as players. Most of them have been here for a couple of years and the second and third periods exemplified the way we need to play.”
With the game tied 3-3 early in the third, Grabner scored to give the Islanders their first lead of the evening. Boyes chipped a pass across the zone to the winger, who one-timed the bouncing puck through Maple Leafs goaltender Ben Scrivens at 3:23.
A minute later, Keith Aucoin’s first goal as an Islander made the score 5-3, and stood as the eventual game-winner. He took a feed from David Ullstrom in the right circle and swept a one-timer past Scrivens. Colin McDonald earned his first NHL assist on the play.
At the 4:34 mark, Scrivens was replaced by James Reimer between the pipes after allowing five goals on 25 shots.
Midway through the period, Moulson made the score 6-3 with his second tally of the evening. The Maple Leafs turned it over in their own zone, and Moulson fired it from the high slot past Reimer for the unassisted goal.
With the game seemingly in the Islanders favor, Matt Frattin scored from a steep angle for the Maple Leafs, making the score 6-4 at the 17:47 mark. Just 13 seconds later, the Leafs almost cut their deficit to one on a rebound opportunity. The puck went through Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who made 39 saves for his second win of the season, and looked as if it may have crossed the goal line. After a brief video review, the replay judge determined that it slid along the goal line before Aucoin cleared it away.
With just over a minute remaining, Grabner tacked on an empty-net shorthanded goal to make the score 7-4. Through three games, Grabner has three goals and two assists.
Aucoin, who the Islanders claimed off waivers from Toronto just a week ago, said that Thursday’s win could set the tone going forward on this road trip, which has four games remaining.
“It’s huge,” Aucoin said. “Especially with the new group of guys we have here, getting to know each other. To come back from a 3-1 deficit like we did took a group effort tonight. It was good to see, and great to get this road trip off to a good start.”
Just two minutes into the opening period, Carl Gunnarsson put the Maple Leafs on the board on a slap shot from the left point through traffic.
Moulson tied the game at 1-1 midway through the opening period with his first tally of the season. He put the puck on goal off an offensive zone faceoff. Scrivens made the save but bobbled the rebound. The puck went through a defenseman’s legs before Moulson scooped it up and put it past the sprawled netminder.
But the Maple Leafs re-took the lead one minute later following a faceoff in the Islanders zone. John-Michael Liles’ point shot was stopped by Nabokov, but Nazem Kadri was able to chip the puck over the Islanders goaltender. Three minutes after that, Mikhail Grabovski wristed one in off the post from just above the left circle to give Toronto a 3-1 lead.
The Islanders killed back-to-back penalties to end the first period, including a 25-second span where Toronto had a 5-on-3 advantage. After that, the rink tilted in the Islanders favor.
“Giving up three goals is a lot, but we certainly weren’t out of it,” Tavares said. “After a tough period, we needed to gain confidence, and I think our PK has been the strongest and most consistent part of our game through three contests. It was a good way to gain some momentum and get back on track and realize that we had to pick up our game.”
The Islanders mounted their comeback in the second period. Midway through a frame, Mark Streit’s power play goal cut the deficit to one. Tavares entered the zone and passed to Brad Boyes on the right wing. Boyes dished back to Streit, who was trailing Tavares in the middle of the zone. The Islanders captain had time to place his shot, and it resulted in his 34th career power play goal.
Less than two minutes later, Boyes netted his first goal as an Islander. Frans Nielsen passed the puck from the left wing wall in front to Boyes, who was uncovered at the edge of the crease. Boyes deflected the puck top shelf at 13:10, tying the score 3-3.
“Once we got going, we started to wear them down,” Tavares said. “We tried to make them turn and play a 200-foot game and put pressure on them. We kept going one shift at a time, got some big goals and turned the tide.”
The Islanders have a quick turnaround before their next game Friday on the road against the Boston Bruins. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.