Anders Lee scored two goals as the New York Islanders extended their winning streak to three games, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Lee scored his 17th and 18th goals of the season Thursday, vaulting him into second place in the rookie goal race. His second goal held up as the game-winner, his sixth winner this season (tops amongst rookies), as the Islanders avenged an October loss to the Leafs.
“When you have the determination to get to the front of the net, you’re going to score a lot of goals,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said of Lee. “You go there and good things happen.”
The Islanders handed the Leafs their 13th loss in 14 games, but the affair was closer than the teams’ positions in the standings. The Islanders jumped out to a 2-0 lead, only to see the Leafs tie the score 2-2 in the second period. Lee came through at 12:02 of the middle period, sliding a Josh Bailey rebound past Jonathan Bernier. Jaroslav Halak made 14 of his 32 saves in the third, earning his 30th win of the season.
“Every team is going to fight and they fought back,” Lee said. “They tied up the game and we were able to get ahead at the end. You can’t expect any team to roll over.”
The home team got off to a hot start, jumping on the Leafs at the opening draw and scoring twice in the first 4:03. Lee pressured Cody Franson, forcing the last man back to make a pass just inside the blueline. Lee took the turnover, deked to the forehand and slid the puck under Jonathan Bernier for his 17th of the season at 1:11.
Less than three minutes later, the Islanders red-hot fourth line lit the lamp for a third straight game. Colin McDonald carried the puck down the wing and cut across the crease for a chance on Bernier. The Leafs goaltender stopped the initial shot, but Casey Cizikas – who scored the game-winner Tuesday – cleaned up the rebound, putting the Islanders ahead 2-0.
“That line has been unbelievable for us,” said Travis Hamonic, who extended his point streak to four games. “That depth is really important for us. At various points of the season we are seeing it pay off.”
The pesky Leafs didn’t go quietly, scoring two quick goals to start the second period. Richard Panik was in on both goals, banging in a fortuities bounce off the end boards at 1:32, while teeing up a pass that Trevor Smith batted out of the air at 4:09.
“We got surprised a little bit by their push, but as soon as they scored the second goal, we settled down a little bit and started playing our hockey again,” Halak said.
Lee came inches away from completing the trick in the dying minutes of the second, sliding a rebound through Bernier’s legs, but just wide of the far post.
Both teams played a run-and-gun third period, with the Islanders outshooting the Leafs 15-14 in the final frame. The Leafs had the best chance of either side as Halak missed a sliding pokecheck and nearly hit the boards, leaving the net vacant. The Islanders covered for their goaltender, so the misplay did not cost Halak his new personal high with his 30th win.
“I am just trying to help the guys win the games,” Halak said. “It’s nice, but it’s a team effort first and always. [Thirty is] great, but we still have plenty of hockey left, so hopefully I can add some more.”
Bernier made 38 saves in the loss.
The Islanders continue their four-game homestand with a Valentine’s Day date against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. Saturday night.