It was noted in the preview that the New York Islanders were likely to outshoot the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, but for the love of Bossy this was a ridiculous shooting gallery. It was 34-10 by the second intermission, after which the Islanders calmly sat on their two-goal lead and sealed what ended up being a 5-3 win.
Things didn't begin with such promise, but fortunately the Islanders had 53 minutes to erase an early 2-0 Toronto lead.
They would only need 11.
Everything happened in the first period: The goals, the penalties, the fights, and a hilariously wide swing of the home crowd's mood.
The Isles earned an almost too-early powerplay when Mark Fraser tripped Frans Nielsen, then made it a 5-on-3 when Cody Franson boarded Matt Moulson from behind. That powerplay never got much going, and then just a minute later Joffrey [sic] Lupul easily swung around Matt Carkner's inviting gap and beat Evgeni Nabokov to open scoring.
Carkner hit Lupul too late, and into the goal, then quickly took an interference penalty trying to handle Lupul in the goal crease. The Leafs converted on their powerplay, suddenly it was 2-0, and suddenly the Isles' luck appeared to run dry. The home fans were ready for a party.
But no. This was the Leafs. They are outshot and often outplayed almost like it's in Randy Carlyle's DNA, so the Islanders methodically climbed back, thanks to the line of Ontario natives led by John Tavares.
By the end of the period, the dust had settled, the Islanders had a 3-2 lead and a 19-5 advantage in shots on goal, and the crowd was utterly silent.
But first came the fights, which announcers will say swung the game (but really all the Isles needed was time). Carkner fought Frazer McLaren, stopping play during what was about to be an Isles 3-on-2. Then Eric Boulton fought Colton Orr, bloodying Orr's nose some and providing cover for everyone's presence in the lineup.
A minute later, the top line went to work.
Tavares made a great spin pass to a wide-open Brad Boyes to get the first goal back within 2.5 minutes. Six minutes later, Tavares and Matt Moulson were creating havoc in front of the net when Moulson tipped Boyes' shot in to tie it. Two minutes after that, Tavares carried the puck on a 2-on-1 with Moulson, took the space, and put a shot hard enough though the arm to trickle past James Reimer.
The second period was more of the same, except without the exciting events. The Isles outshot the Leafs 15-5 in the period, Toronto not logging a shot until six minutes in. The crowd began giving the Bronx cheer when the Leafs managed to get a puck to Evgeni Nabokov's pads.
No penalties in the period at all, but one key insurance goal came at 14:40 from Tavares again, left to walk through the slot after Boyes feed after entering the zone.
The Leafs five-man defense was aimless on the play, consistent with too much of their game. Following the Islanders over the years since the last playoff appearance, a two-goal lead entering the third period on the road would typically make me nervous. But not so tonight, not the way the Isles have been playing, and not the way the Leafs appeared incapable of mounting a response.
In the third, Kyle Okposo made a great elusive run down the right wing boards to create a 3-on-2 situation. He fed Frans Nielsen in the high slot, where he blew a slapshot past Reimer.
- The Leafs got one back in garbage time, making it 5-3 after getting a 5-on-3 (6-on-3 with the goalie pulled) in the final minute of regulation after Evgeni Nabokov cleared the puck over the glass and Boulton took a roughing penalty.
- Andrew MacDonald (22:22) was fantastic. In the second period, he saved a goal and possibly another on the Leafs' few opportunities. A great sweep check essentially prevented a 2-on-0 and kept the score 4-2.
- No idea if it matters in the Hart Trophy voting, but Tavares put on another fine display in the Hockey (Media) Hypital of the Universe.
- I have no idea how James Van Riemsdyk took a wide-open tap-in on a 6-on-3 and shanked it out of play. That just about defies physics.
- Honestly, I was horrified to see both Boulton (7:26) and Carkner in the lineup, but you at least see why they do it against a team like Toronto, which dresses at least two face-punchers on most nights. Doesn't change Carkner's culpability on the first two goals against.
- On that note, Colton Orr and Matt Martin had a hockey exchange along the boards where either could have killed each other if they had Matt Cooke's view of their fellow NHLPA members' health and careers. Instead, neither took advantage of an awkward collision when Martin was clearing the puck, and they took care not to Pronger-stomp on each other as they picked themselves back up off the ice.
- You know how early in the season the Isles offense outside of the top line too often played like it didn't have a plan? That's what the Leafs looked like. Several great individual threats, a few moments of zone pressure, but mostly a discombobulated mess.
- The Isles though? They look pretty good. Still. Enjoy it. You deserve it.
Unfortunately, none of the other results were breaking the Islanders' way tonight: The Rangers won, the Senators won, and the Jets won in overtime (after almost blowing it, giving up the tying goal with 1:12 left).
You know what though? It doesn't matter as long as the Islanders keep playing like this and picking up points. In fact, tonight they pulled within two points of the fifth-place Leafs...who kind of look like they're in trouble.