The Islanders reinforcements made an immediate impact with the big club, powering the home team to a 5-4 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Anders Lee, in his season debut, scored two third-period goals to send the game to overtime, where Lubomir Visnovsky buried the winner at 1:55. Lee’s game-tying goal was assisted by linemate Ryan Strome, who found the scoresheet in his first game since being recalled by the Islanders. Fellow call-up Mike Halmo also made an impact, recording four hits and one shot in 9:01 of ice time.
“They were a big factor in why we won the game tonight,” head coach Jack Capuano said of Lee, Strome and Halmo. “Lee’s as advertised, a big guy who goes to the net… Halmo was great, a good energy guy for us who finished a lot of checks tonight and made some skill plays. Strome made a nice play on the power play too.”
The Islanders needed a spark from the young players, as they rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits in a wild third period that saw the teams combine for five goals. The Islanders allowed their 2-1 lead turn to into a 3-2 hole in a span of 2:36, before Lee banged home his first of the night – a power-play goal – from in close.
Lee’s second goal – after Joffrey Lupul restored the Leafs lead – came off of a sharp-angled centering feed from Strome. The puck hit Lee, who was posted in front of the net, and slowly trickled through Jonathan Bernier to knot the score at four and force OT. The goal was reviewed, but the puck clearly crossed the goal line before the play was blown dead.
“Getting around the paint and in the goalies eyes is something I’ve always tried to do,” Lee said. “I’ve got the body to do it and that’s my job out there.”
In overtime, a fortunate bounce from the corner and a failed clearing attempt left the puck at the hash marks, where Visnovsky snap a half slap shot past Bernier.
Halmo endeared himself to the Coliseum crowd early by leveling Phil Kessel and Jay McClement in the first period.
“I felt a lot of emotions,” Halmo said. “Butterflies, nerves, excitement, a little bit of everything. [After the Kessel] hit I eased up a bit and felt more comfortable as the game went on.”
Michael Grabner put the Islanders on the board with two shorthanded goals – on the same penalty – in the first period; he was the first Islander since Ziggy Palffy to accomplish the feat (on Apr. 17, 1999).
Grabner’s first goal was the result of a strong forecheck with Casey Cizikas, as the pair forced a turnover deep in the Leafs zone. Cizikas won a puck battle and shoveled the puck to an open Grabner, who scored stick side on Bernier. Less than a minute later, Grabner forced the Leafs goaltender to misplay the puck off defenseman Morgan Rielly’s skate and slid it into the unguarded net.
Kessel – whose five Olympic goals tied Grabner for the tournament lead – opened the scoring for the Leafs at 6:53, ripping a shot top corner past Nabokov. The Kessel line had a strong showing for the Leafs, as James van Reimsdyk had three assists while Tyler Bozak finished with two. Paul Ranger, Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul all scored for the Leafs.
Evgeni Nabokov made 18 saves in the win, while Bernier stopped 30 in the loss. With the win, the Islanders take the season series from the Leafs 2-1 and four points to three.
The Islanders retake the Coliseum ice Saturday afternoon, as they host the New Jersey Devils at 1:00 p.m.