The New York Islanders trailed by two goals early, but showed composure to score five straight times in a 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday at Air Canada Centre.
The top line of John Tavares (two goals, one assist), Matt Moulson (one goal, one assist) and Brad Boyes (one goal, two assists) combined for eight points, propelling the Islanders to a much-needed win to maintain seventh place in the Eastern Conference. At 23-16-5 (51 points), the Islanders stay one point behind sixth-place Ottawa and three ahead of the eighth-place New York Rangers, who both won Thursday.
Head Coach Jack Capuano said the team has grown during the course of the season into a resilient bunch that has gone 7-0-2 so far in the month of April.
“I don’t know what happened at the beginning of the year, but we’ve put that behind us, moved forward and have done some good things here,” Capuano said. “We fell behind early, our 5-on-3 struggled, but we found a way to come back and get some pucks to the net. Fortunately, they went in.”
The Islanders outshot Toronto 11-2 over the first 10 minutes of play, but trailed 2-1. After the Islanders failed to score on a 1:28 5-on-3 advantage, Joffrey Lupul gave the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead five minutes in. He drove the net from the left wing and found space between Evgeni Nabokov’s legs for the early goal.
Cody Franson scored on the power play less than two minutes later to double Toronto’s lead. Phil Kessel dished a pass down low, and Tyler Bozak backhanded an area pass in front where Franson powered it home at 6:41.
Before the midway mark of the opening period, a pair of fights four seconds apart deflated the Maple Leafs’ momentum. Matt Carkner and Frazer McLaren dropped the gloves first, and on the ensuing draw, Eric Boulton and Colton Orr went toe-to-toe in a lengthy bout. After the marathon battle, play settled down, and the ice tilted in the visitors’ favor.
“I wasn’t happy with my play up until that point, so I knew I had to step up for the boys,” Carkner said. “Thankfully, McLaren stepped up and we had a good fight. Boults knows what to do – he and Orr had a great fight, and the boys responded real well. We’re a composed group in here, and any little spark helps. We did a great job to battle back.”
Boyes netted his ninth goal of the season at 9:07, drawing the Islanders within one. Tavares spun around in the right circle and threaded a pass through traffic for Boyes on the other side, who ripped it home. Six minutes later, Moulson tied the game at 2-2 with a power play marker. Boyes took a quick shot from high in the zone that Moulson re-directed to Toronto goalie James Reimer’s left side. Lubomir Visnovsky earned secondary assists on each of the Islanders first two goals.
Tavares scored his first of the night late in the first to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead. He and Boyes took the Toronto zone on a two-on-one, and the Maple Leafs’ Jake Gardiner defended the potential pass. Tavares instead shot the puck off the underside of Reimer’s arm and in at 17:24.
The Islanders skated to intermission with a 3-2 lead, marking the second consecutive game in which they scored three times in the first period.
Tavares extended the Islanders lead at 14:40 of the middle frame with his second of the night, and 26th of the season. Boyes drove wide on an attack, drawing a defender before centering a feed to Tavares. With a second to pick his spot, the Islanders center went low on Reimer to double the Islanders’ lead, 4-2.
Boyes, who is from the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, offered a unique theory for why the Islanders, specifically the top line (who all hail from the Toronto area), have excelled in Toronto this season. Boyes has two goals and four assists in the two meetings, both wins, at the Maple Leafs.
“I know I’ve got a section of people here tonight, and I think Johnny had a section of people here too,” Boyes said. “Playing here has worked out well for us. For whatever reason – maybe Johnny’s getting home-cooked meals. I had one yesterday from my mom. That was good. Maybe that was part of it.”
The Islanders out-shot the Maple Leafs 34-10 over the first 40 minutes, and finished with a 38-21 advantage in shots on goal. It marked the eighth straight game in which the Islanders registered more shots than their opponent.
Midway through the third stanza, Frans Nielsen increased the Islanders lead to three. Kyle Okposo led a 3-on-2 rush and wheeled around a defender in the neutral zone before taking the blue line. He found Nielsen trailing in the middle, who wound up his shot and pumped in his fifth of the season.
The Maple Leafs went to a late 5-on-3 power play, and pulled the goalie to set up a three-man advantage in the Islanders zone. Kessel fed the puck to Dion Phaneuf, who one-timed it past Nabokov to cut the Islanders lead to 5-3 with 26 seconds remaining.
The Islanders head west to Winnipeg and will face off with the Jets on Saturday, April 20. At 23-19-2 (48 points), the Jets sit in ninth place, three points back of the Islanders, and are the most imminent threat to New York’s postseason hopes. The Islanders have not lost in regulation during April, while the Jets have won five straight to hang on the outside of the playoff bubble. Game time is set for 3:00 p.m. Saturday.
Notes: Evgeni Nabokov stopped 19-of-21 shots, finishing with a save percentage greater than .900 for the 12th consecutive game … Nabokov improved to 9-1-2 in his last 12 starts, and is tied again for the league lead with 22 wins … Tonight marked the first time in the last 10 games that the Islanders have allowed more than two goals … The Islanders improved to 13-5-2 on the road; only Pittsburgh (16) and Chicago (17), who sit atop their respective Conferences, have won more away from home … The Islanders went 1-for-5 on the power play, while Toronto went 2-for-4 … Travis Hamonic led the Islanders with 23:00 of ice time … John Tavares and Josh Bailey led all other players with four shots apiece … Matt Carkner blocked a game-high four shots … Matt Martin led the team with six hits … The Islanders won 35-of-63 faceoffs (56%), led by Frans Nielsen (9-of-12, 75%).
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
Toronto Maple Leafs
21 James van Riemsdyk - 42 Tyler Bozak - 81 Phil Kessel
41 Nikolai Kulemin - 43 Nazem Kadri - 19 Joffrey Lupul
16 Clarke MacArthur - 84 Mikhail Grabovski - 47 Leo Komarov
38 Frazer McLaren - 11 Jay McClement - 28 colton Orr
51 Jake Gardiner - 3 Dion Phaneuf
24 John-Michael Liles - 23 Ryan O'Byrne
45 Mark Fraser - 4 Cody Franson
34 James Reimer
30 Ben Scrivens