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Maple Leafs 4, Islanders 3 (OT): What's a high stick, anyway?

"Hey who are the guys in black-and-white stripes?" "No clue. Town of Hempstead developers maybe?"
"Hey who are the guys in black-and-white stripes?" "No clue. Town of Hempstead developers maybe?"

Maybe competent officiating changes how this 4-3 OT loss goes; you never know.

The Islanders had to waste four minutes preventing the angelic Leafs from getting a shot on their powerplays, while the refs patently ignored or missed multiple highsticks to Islanders faces as well as an absurd Luke Schenn crosscheck to Nino Niederreiter's back away from the play after Nino had the gall to legally bodycheck two of Schenn's teammates.

But this is your NHL, and it even carried through to the winning goal, set up by the very player (Mikhail Grabovski) who had just interfered with Matt Moulson in the Leafs zone to create the 2-on-1 that won the game.

GS | ES | H2H | Shifts | Corsi | Zones | Recaps: NHL | Isles | SBN

Somehow despite being outshot by the Islanders 32-21 on the night, the sweet, innocent Toronto Maple Leafs did not take a single non-coincidental penalty for the second consecutive night. The lone PIM recorded by the Leafs was a cursory Phil Kessel minor which merely softened the four minutes given to Travis Hamonic on the same altercation. Truly a remarkable display of imagined discipline between two teams that amped up the physicality and cheap stickwork all night long.

The only break the Islanders caught came not courtesy of the laughable refs -- who should be suspended if not hung by their toenails over a toasty campfire -- but by the Coliseum boards, which were no doubt under some John Tavares Jedi spell as they helpfully fed P.A. Parenteau for the game-tying goal with 12 seconds left. So the Islanders salvaged a point, should have salvaged two, and enter the break tasting the sting of a blown 2-0 lead.

(Normally we try not to bemoan officiating after losses, but this is one of those occasions where it just stared you in the face all night long. For sure, bitterness over the loss should not hide the blown lead, but nor should the blown lead hide fantastically absent officiating such as this [Steckel headshot on Martin] and this [high stick on MacDonald]. Mike Hasenfratz and Brian Pochmara must've had flights to catch for their own All-Star break excursions. Sorry if you paid to watch a game that was actually officiated by someone who is aware this game has a rulebook beyond, "Drop the puck. Pick it up after it goes in the net. Repeat.")

2-0 Leads: Not Always Safe

Regardless, ultimately the Islanders still made their own life harder by conceding goals late in the second period and early in the third to erase the otherwise well-constructed 2-0 lead. And it's not like it was Leafs powerplays that made that happen. (Those were over before the Leafs scoring began.)

After the hotly contested 16 minutes that followed, that fumbling of the lead left the Isles open to losing on just such a bounce as the broken-bat bloop single that Grabovski deflected off Milan Jurcina's stick, over Al Montoya at the top of his crease, and into the goal for the Leafs' go-ahead goal with 3:31 left.

Parenteau's tying goal made it feel better for a little while. But only a little while.

Game Highlights

Game Notes

Bailey-Martin: Well, what more can you say about Matt Martin? Hitting Leafs left and right as usual, and singlehandedly willing a PK puck battle at the point into a foot race that he won and turned into a shorthanded goal on a nice pass to, and nice finish by, Josh Bailey.

Milan Jurcina, always the big Lenny. Fans and coaches always on him to use that big frame more, then when he does and crosschecks Clarke MacArthur down in the crease, MacArthur remains prone providing the perfect interference as Jake Gardiner's shot goes through Montoya for the tying goal.

They can score at 6-on-5: After botching the extra man attack all season long, the Islanders have finally gotten that one under control and it helped produce Parenteau's late tying goal. Well, Parenteau's goal came on that nice bounce after a poor Leafs clear from an Isles dump-in -- Parenteau still had to make a nice shot though. But the entire shift before that, the Islanders sustained strong pressure as John Tavares weaved in and out and around the Leafs, accentuating each move with a sublime pass to a waiting Islander teammate.

Missed Opportunities: That said, while it was a nice 3-on-2 counterattack in OT, Tavares being the high man accepting the pass and setting up Travis Hamonic down low, you might've wished Hamonic to go back to Tavares in the slot instead of shoot from the low angle. I think at the moment Hamonic decided to shoot Tavares was not open yet -- it wasn't until he was in shooting motion that Tavares got around the D-man he just eluded to get open.

Johnny T. is Magic: I know I said as much in the previous bullet, but his work during the 6-on-5 was pretty incredible. Can't remember the last time a player has made my jaw drop so many times as he has over the past two months.

The OT Goal: At first I wasn't going to go all woe-is-us on that OT winner -- I initially thought Moulson just lost a puck battle during OT's typically frenzied chaos. But upon further review Grabovsky did the equivalent of clipping the tackler from behind just before he gets to the kick-returner. (Excuse my awkward football vocabulary.) As Moulson went for that loose puck Grabovsky -- who could not reach said puck -- shoved Moulson from behind so that he fell, missed the puck, and whoops! left it free for Grabovsky to pick up and go the other way.

Montoya Almost Saves the Day: Hard to say how Montoya looks, after giving up four goals on 19 shots and not getting much work overall. That fluke go-ahead goal probably wouldn't have eluded Evgeni Nabokov since Nabokov plays deeper in his crease, but then of course that style leaves Nabby open to his own holes. Montoya almost saved the day on the OT winner, making a sprawling glove "save" on the winning shot by MacArthur. Turns out his glove was well inside the goal though, so much that you didn't even need the evidence of seeing its profile through the mesh in his trapper to see that the puck had gone over the line.

Dion Phaneuf: LOL. I love it when Phaneuf acts like he's about to fight or be big when he has zero intention of doing so. His scary gesturing to grandpa Brian Rolston was just your usual Phrankeneuf faux tough act. The official's reluctance to intercede in that particular occasion left Phrankeneuf pantomiming his "don't hold me back, Ill get 'em!" drill for an uncomfortably long, unintentionally hilarious dramatic pause.

The Brutality of a Home-and-Home: The refs had their thumbs up their ... airhorns, but that doesn't mean the Islanders were innocent. This game got brutal, really quick, and each failure to show up by an official just invited more and more of the chippy stuff. That's fine -- it was blatant stick fouls and interferences (not from one-on-one battles) that were the most glaring omissions. But oh yes, play each other two consecutive nights and you'll get this old time hockey.

Speaking of old-time hockey: No idea who orchestrated it, but great to see the home teams don their home whites for each half of this home-and-home.

* * *

I don't know what to say. Jack Capuano and Doug Weight (and John Tavares, after he'd been sticked in the mouth to end the second period) gave it to the refs all night as non-call followed non-call. It was frankly an awful officiating show that distracts from the Isles blowing the lead (and never getting the chance to build on it -- not once -- on the powerplay).

This leaves the Islanders finishing their pre-break stretch with 45 points, tied with three other teams in the East. All of them have more games played than the Islanders and only one of them, Montreal, has another game to play before the break. With Tampa Bay behind at 44 points, it makes for a strange five-pack of flawed teams trying to keep their season's meaning from disappearing like some such referee's whistle.