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Islanders 6, Maple Leafs 5 (OT): That’s way better than an all-star game

The Isles led 1-0 early and not again until Nelson’s game-winner in an overtime thriller.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Islanders
Aaaaand exhale.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In a wildly entertaining affair in Brooklyn, the New York Islanders gained one point on the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs and two points on the Philadelphia Flyers with a 6-5 overtime win.

Brock Nelson scored the sudden-death winner for his second goal of the night — after the Islanders tied it one last time with their goalie pulled with 1:29 left — as both goalies faced over 30 shots.

It was a back-and-forth, almost completely even strength game. The Isles outshot the Leafs 34-32 overall, 34-28 at even strength, as the teams had only one power play each. Ten of the 11 goals were at even strength, with Zach Hyman’s second period shorthanded goal the only exception.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

First Period: Not a goalies’ duel

All four goals in the 24-shot first period were ones the goalies would likely want back:

  • Ryan Strome opened scoring by chipping a fat rebound from his original shot over Frederik Andersen.
  • Thomas Greiss let the Leafs tie it on a simple shot from the high slot by Nikita Soshnikov on an even-man rush.
  • Right after Johnny Boychuk’s shot from the right wing boards troubled Andersen, Auston Matthews got on the board with a nifty move down low to trick Greiss, who had position, and slide it under his pad.
  • Nikolay Kulemin tied it with 1:56 left on a sharp rebound of a Casey Cizikas shot that went right to Kulemin’s blade.

Second Period: Not a defensive clinic, neither

If the goalies hinted at another high-scoring affair in the first, during the first five minutes of the second they made some amends as both were called on for big saves, including Andersen’s glove save on Josh Bailey’s attempt to give the Isles the lead.

Instead, Mitch Marner gave the Leafs the 3-2 lead at 5:12, smartly using a screen on an Isles breakdown to snipe Greiss to the far top corner. Marner forced another good leg save out of Greiss three minutes later, giving Thomas Hickey fits with a spinaround backhander.

Then the Islanders’ top line went back the other way and created some good chances, ultimately drawing the first penalty of the game. Rather than enable an equalizer, however, that turned into a shorthanded goal for the Leafs, a two-on-one against the second unit finished by Zach Hyman on a clean look from the wing.

The Islanders got one back before the end of the period to reach the second intermission down only a goal. After an excellent forecheck by Anders Lee on Roman Polak, Strome took the loose puck around behind the net and fed Brock Nelson breaking into the low slot, where he scored over Andersen’s glove.

Third Period: Events, events

The final period played out not like one well-coached team holding on to a gone-goal lead, but like two teams that like to play high-event hockey. The Leafs threaten with their speed, and the Islanders in the last few weeks — or certainly since the weekend — played like a 1980s squad where first to five goals wins.

The goal posts that rang with the impact of rubber all night continued into the third, and this was frankly anyone’s game. It could’ve become 7-3 as easily as it became 4-4.

But 4-4 is where things landed at 13:30 after another good forecheck by the Isles’ top line. This time John Tavares led the approach on the dump-in, Lee followed up, and helped get the puck to Dennis Seidenberg at the point for Lee’s second assist and third multi-point game in a row.

Andersen fought off Seidenberg’s point shot, but Lee batted the rebound across the goal crease where Josh Bailey was there to finish with his 11th goal of the season.

Alas, for the third game in a row the Isles’ opponent got the backbreaking fifth goal. More chaos and near-missed clears in their zone turned disastrous when Anthony Beauvillier’s stick left him unable to cover his man. That man, Morgan Rielly, alertly redirected a puck from behind the net across the slot to William Nylander, who had a gaping net to hit.

This time, however, the Isles would get a fifth goal too. They almost got it back right away when Andersen made a sprawled out glove stop on Tavares as the Isles captain tried to stuff it in at the post.

After a timeout, the same crew tried again, now with Greiss pulled for a sixth attacker. They refreshingly demonstrated competence with the sixth attacker, controlled play off the faceoff, and a parlayed that into a sequence of possession from Johnny Boychuk, to Nick Leddy, to Tavares, back to Leddy, and onward until Andrew Ladd deflected Bailey’s shot in to tie it at 5-5 with 89 seconds left in regulation.

Overtime: Can these teams play all the time please?

Look, it wasn’t a defensive clinic, but it wasn’t a bunch of teams cherry-picking either. When these two teams get together, they see 50/50 pucks and they go for them. I can’t even begin to describe the back-and-forth of OT, which lasted less than three minutes, but the only slow parts were when both sides were exhausted and sportingly agreeing to a line change.

It was 2:42 of helter skelter, and Brock Nelson finished it with his patented wrist shot on the kind of a three-on-one that, since the advent of 3-on-3 OT, has routinely turned into a game-winning odd-man rush for the Islanders’ opponent.

Not this time. Commence hugs.

Next Up

The Islanders gained one point on the Leafs and two points on the Flyers, who lost in regulation tonight to the Blues in Philadelphia, where the Isles next play on Thursday. That one is on NBC Sports in the U.S.