Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:
Good times in Islander County. Awfully good times.
For the majority of the night the Islanders outshot and outplayed their opponents, but they found themselves in a hole early on. After two quick penalties to the Leafs, it was almost Toronto in the proverbial hole, but the Leafs were able to kill off a 5-on-3 that the Islanders never really put together.
Once the penalties expired, the Leafs cashed in twice in a two minute span. First it was Joffrey Lupul to opent the scoring, then Cody Franson on the power play – created by a Matt Carkner interference penalty. Just like that is was 2-0 Leafs and the Islanders had their work cut out for them.
To get the team fired up, both Carkner and Matt Martin dropped the gloves in succession to try and ‘get the team going.’ The Leafs carry a couple of fighters to begin with, so maybe it was inevitable, but Coach Capuano and a few Islanders credited the pair of fights with picking the team up.
Whether the fights were the cause or not, the effect was clear; the team woke up and took control of a Leafs team that looked out of sorts and completely ineffective at times. The Islanders would end up leading the first period in shots 19-5 (!) and score three times before the period ended.
Brad Boyes opened the scoring for the islanders two and a half minutes after the Leafs’ second goal and about 80 seconds after the latter fight. He took a stunning pass from John Tavares and put the puck past James Reimer to get the Isles on the board. Later in the period, Matt Moulson would tip in a power play goal and Tavares scored on a 2-on-1 with Moulson.
In recent games the second line has been carrying the load, but tonight the first line stepped up big time and took over the game in the first period, bringing the Islanders back from a 2-0 deficit to 3-2. If both lines get hot at the same time, watch out.
The second period was more Islanders, out shooting Toronto 15-5. John Tavares scored again, his 26th of the year, good for third in the entire NHL behind Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin, the latter having gone into goal scoring overdrive recently. The Islanders were up 4-2 at this point and added one more in the third, this time from the second line. Frans Nielsen from Kyle Okposo for the three-goal advantage.
Toronto didn’t mount much of a comeback in the second or the third. They would add pressure and a goal very late, as they had a 6-on-3 after penalties to Eric Boulton and Evgeni Nabokov. But with :30 to go, the game was all but over when Dion Phaneuf scored on the power play.
The Islanders continue rolling and head to Winnipeg on Saturday. They won’t have a chance to clinch a playoff berth there – the Jets won in overtime tonight after almost blowing a lead in the third. But nonetheless, the Islanders are as hot as any team in the NHL right now and are absolutely cruising. If they can win in regulation Saturday, they’ll be within a game or two of locking up a playoff spot, as they could be five ahead of ninth place Winnipeg with three to go by Sunday morning.
The New York Islanders are in complete control of their own destiny in mid-April. What a change of pace.