The New York Islanders staged a third-period comeback and John Tavares made sure it didn’t go to waste, scoring the OT winner in a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
Tavares scored his fourth OT winner 4:38 into the extra frame, making a great individual effort before sliding the puck underneath Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
“I just tried to gain some speed,” Tavares said. “I saw the defenseman backed off and gave me a lane to the net. I was able to hesitate enough to open up Bernier and it trickled in.”
The Islanders scored three third-period goals, overcoming a pair of two-goal deficits in the process. Tyler Kennedy’s first as an Islander put his team on the board early in the frame, while two quick goals from Frans Nielsen and Casey Cizikas tied the score.
“We were resilient,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We found a way to come back against a good team, a team that’s hungry and win the game.”
The Islanders’ tenured players completed the comeback, but their two newest additions played big roles in the win. Michal Neuvirth came up with timely saves to keep the Islanders within striking distance, while Kennedy sparked the team with a third-period goal.
Down 2-0, Neuvirth took a sure goal away from Dion Phaneuf – sliding left-to-right for a pad save – at the end of the second period and stopped Phil Kessel on a wrist shot early in the third. The second save was key, as the Islanders rushed the other way, with Kennedy beating Bernier on the next sequence, 1:32 into the period.
“He made some big saves, especially in the third,” Capuano said. “He was out in his crease, he was aggressive, he took away a lot of the net. You need goaltending to win. When we needed the saves, he came up big for us.”
The Leafs did re-established the two-goal lead off a James van Riemsdyk breakaway at 6:06, but the Islanders kept coming, eventually breaking through with goals 30 seconds apart.
First, Nielsen found himself in the right place at the right time, pouncing during a goalmouth scramble at the side of the net for the power-play goal. Cizikas was also in the right spot half a minute later, battling Tim Erixon at the side of the net before tipping a Travis Hamonic wrister up and over a stunned Bernier.
“I thought we really came together,” Kennedy said. “A good team comes back from a two-goal deficit. That’s what we had to do and we did it.”
The game didn’t start the way the Islanders envisioned, playing shorthanded for five of the opening 10 minutes. The PK stood tall on all three minors – including a minute-long five-on-three – but David Booth opened the scoring at 18:23, potting a backhand past Michal Neuvirth.
The Leafs went up 2-0 in the second period off of Peter Holland’s 11th of the season. Neuvirth stopped Richard Panik’s backhand off the rush, but a trailing Holland corralled the loose puck and beat the downed goalie from a sharp angle at 10:27.
Neuvirth battled through the early deficit, ultimately making 22 saves for his first W as an Islander.
“I didn’t have much work to do tonight, but I stayed focused and I was definitely more relaxed than the last game,” Neuvirth said.
Bernier made 39 saves in the loss, stopping the Islanders first 23 shots, before surrendering four in the final 20.
The Islanders return home to Long Island for the final regular-season meeting against the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.