The New York Islanders won their second game in as many nights thanks to a solid effort and some generosity from Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier. Calvin de Haan's first NHL goal -- and Bernier's second-biggest favor of the night -- ended up being the winner in a 5-3 victory.
John Tavares followed up Monday night's five-point night with three assists, Thomas Vanek continued his point streak, and Kyle Okposo returned to the lineup as a goal scorer as well as a new daddy. Kevin Poulin allowed three goals but stopped 23 shots to win his first start back in the role of injured Evgeni Nabokov's stand-in.
Suddenly the Isles have won seven of their last 10 games and reached 39 points which, modest as that total is (even in the Metro), looked like a far-off goal before the holidays.
This is the part where you wonder why Matt Donovan and Peter Regin were scratched after impressive returns or promotions in the lineup in Monday night's 7-3 win over Dallas. But then you remember it's the Leafs, and the Isles dressed Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton instead, and you're reminded that this is their way of going tomfoolery vs. tomfoolery, same as it ever was.
Of course, there were no fights, no noted cheap shots, and Boulton played all of 6:12. (Deterrence worked!) Just another fast-paced game of trading chances between these two teams. Oh, and five Leafs power plays to the Isles' one, including a hooking penalty on Carkner that was directly due to his poor mobility.
Anyway, most of the Isles' penalties were deserved, and the penalty kill did pretty well to keep them from hurting. Mason Raymond's was the lone Leafs power play goal, on an ice-level rebound shot that Poulin might like to have back.
Gifts of Bernier
This isn't to say the Isles didn't play well -- they did, though they exhibited some fatigue or other back-to-back-like-travel behavior -- but Bernier, one of the league's top goalies this season, was far from his normal form in giving up four goals. Among the faults:
- The Leafs were 46 seconds from reaching the first intermission with a 1-0 lead when Bernier offered his first gift: Kyle Okposo's turnaround shot from the blueline -- albeit through a healthy screen -- found its way off Bernier's blocker and in.
- Michael Grabner was lucky not to get a tripping penalty right after the Islanders had killed off a Leafs power play, when Frans Nielsen sent the puck the length of the ice with Grabner in pursuit. Bernier stopped the puck outside his crease, but its momentum carried it into the illegal non-trapezoid zone. Caught in no man's land, Bernier backed away and Grabner swooped around the net to score on a wraparound, like one of his finer moments against the Sabres back when we first discovered his speed.
- Bernier helped the Islanders' cause again, and in the most pivotal way, when he let de Haan's shot from center ice in, taking a deflection off the stick of Dion Phaneuf. That goal made it a comfortable 4-2 lead, insurance the Isles would end up needing.
The Leafs made things interesting with 3:05 left in regulation when Nazem Kadri sent a desperation shot from the point that helpully deflected downard and past Poulin of Joffrey Lupul's chest.
But they never mounted a coordinated or sustained attack with Bernier pulled for a sixth attacker. It ended up being Grabner who brought the GRITZ with a shot block, allowing him to loft a forward pass for Cal Clutterbuck to easily seal the game with an empty netter.
What's Going On?
In a season with many tough breaks, the Isles have finally gotten some to go with their decent play and healthy forward corps in recent weeks. That's how the last few weeks have been 7-3 instead of 5-5 or worse. So in a word, they are due, overdue.
But you can't help noting the balance and flexibility that Brock Nelson (Keith notes his sexy advanced stats here), Ryan Strome, a healthy Cal Clutterbuck and an effective Michael Grabner add, to say nothing of de Haan who continues to impress on the blueline.
Off to Denver now for training at altitude in Friday's meeting with the Avalanche. Who wants to bet Patrick Roy throws a tantrum about something?
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- New York Islanders 7, Dallas Stars 3: John Tavares hat trick, Ryan Strome's first NHL goal, Nabokov injured
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