A weary New York Islanders squad traveled to Toronto and looked every bit the team coming off two hard-fought divisional games but they still had a great chance to escape with a win in the final minutes. Alas, a Ryan Strome penalty helped erase a 3-2 lead created by Strome's go-ahead goal two minutes earlier, and the Maple Leafs scored the only shootout tally in four attempts to take two of the three points, 4-3 (1-0).
In his first game inheriting the starting goalie mantle from an injured Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss had some hiccups but withstood a third-period barrage to at least earn the Islanders a point. Speaking of the two division rivals they played this week, tonight's point (82) pulls them to within two points of the Metro's second-place Rangers (84), and with two games in hand. It also pushes them six points ahead of the fourth-place Penguins, and still with one game in hand.
First Period: We're Awake, Kind of
The Isles had the better of chances and offensive pressure for most of the first period but only had a John Tavares breakaway goal against the flow to show for it.
Nazem Kadri lost the handle on the puck high in the Isles zone and Tavares pounced before Connor Carrick could get to it to keep it in. That created the room for Tavares to take off down the ice ahead of the Leafs defense. Garret Sparks stopped his first shot, a five-hole attempt, but Sparks' act of looking for the rebound caused his legs to open for Tavares to slip said rebound through.
The Leafs equalized three minutes later though, with rookie good TARANA boy Zach Hyman scoring his second goal in his sixth NHL game. Hyman found the rebound of a point shot before Johnny Boychuk could. Greiss looked a little off balance on the goal -- a bit like the wraparound attempt last night that Brian Strait helped save until Greiss got his paddle over -- and that created more space for Hyman to convert.
Second Period: Repeat.
Things settled down into a territorial chess match after that, though the teams traded second-period goals while Jack Capuano tried a variety of dice-rolling line combos.
The Leafs struck first with a rare dent into the Isles penalty kill. It came after Anders Lee's slash canceled out the remainder of a Kadri penalty. But Morgan Rielly's go-ahead goal was more of a four-on-three thanks to a bad Islanders change. The three Isles still on the ice sprinted hard to recover positioning on the Leafs rush, but that left Rielly wide open to shoot from the high slot as the trailing man and pick a corner behind Sparks.
That goal made it 2-1 at 10:45, but two minutes later it was all tied up thanks to Nick Leddy.
Like, only Nick Leddy.
He took the puck from deep in the Isles zone and rushed his way into the Leafs zone to beat Sparks from the high slot. It was a great rush, but hardly Bobby Orr-esque: more like the Leafs seas parted for him, requiring little weaving to get into the zone and to a scoring position.
Third Period: Not Awake, But Fortunate
The Leafs had a golden opportunity for the go-ahead goal when Kyle Okposo took another third-period high-sticking penalty, drawing blood from Kadri. But a minute into it, Toronto took a too many men penalty. During the four-on-four that followed, Tavares was crunched hard and low into the boards with Martin Marincin, sending him hunched over to the bench.
The Isles didn't get their second shot of the third period until 16 minutes in, yet they got the go-ahead goal on their third. Ryan Strome, who registered the second (a softie) and third shots (a converted partial breakaway), scored when his attempt trickled through Sparks as Jake Gardiner hacked away at Strome.
That gave the Isles the lead with 5:19 left, but once again they didn't make it easy on themselves to get to the finish line. Strome took a hooking penalty with 3:08 left after he and Nielsen each got a piece of William Nylander on a move through the slot. With Sparks pulled for an extra attacker to make it a six-on-four, the Isles had a few chances to clear and perhaps ice the game with an empty net. Instead the Leafs held, the second extra man paid off, and Nylander knocked in a rebound at 18:47 to force overtime.
Overtime/Shootout: Le Pant, Le Pew
Overtime saw one solo chance for Tavares, followed by a grueling shift for Okposo, Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic, who were stuck out there and pinned into their own zone while the Leafs were able to change all three skaters during play. An icing, then a Greiss freeze finally let the pressure off. But that and the third-period penalty kills looked painful for an exhausted team coming off two hard-fought divisional games and playing a back-to-back.
Late in the frame, Tavares was kept from getting a look in the Leafs zone by good Hyman pressure, and an uncalled Hyman hook, so when Hyman broke free and Tavares hooked him back, Hyman's all-too-easy fall to the ice made it easy for the refs to call coincidental penalties, hooking and embellishing, and no power play was awarded.
The shootout was poor, except for Greiss' initial save and two good poke-checks. Nikita Soshnikov made a great move for the only conversion. Outside of Nielsen's five-hole try that went through Sparks but deflected wide, their attempts were bad: Okposo with a forehand move that wasn't working, Tavares with his usual slow-motion act that even Butch Goring called out as futile, and Cal Clutterbuck missing the net entirely.
Banged up, road weary and back-to-back against a resting-at-home opponent and all that, so it's good they at least got a point. But once some rest is restored, that second point will sure look easier than traveling to Boston Saturday afternoon to take two.
Still, if they were going to choose one of the three games this week to cough up the late one-goal lead on, they chose wisely.