The Leafs mounted a considerably stronger resistance than the dead-men-walking Sabres from two nights ago, and indeed from the two previous occasions when the Maple Leafs pledged to perform well for, but then embarrassed, their major offseason acquisition against his former team.
At last, on the third try they won their own Stanley Cup.
The presence of that guy, John Tavares, again drew notice from the Coliseum crowd even before he scored in the third, though not to quite the levels of venom as the collective Feb. 28 exorcism, nor to the levels of reverence demanded by the Toronto masses who take great offense that he is treated like a player who willingly left them for other pajamas.
First Period: Each team ‘establishes their game’
In the scoreless first period, the teams traded select chances, neutral zone-clogs, and a few rushes whenever daylight opened. The Islanders got at least a chance or two from each line, while Robin Lehner stood tall and cut off angles to leave Leafs shooters few corners to aim for.
As in the previous meetings, the Tavares line was a major generator of zone time and offensive looks for Toronto, and were the reason the Leafs had the edge in the period. Thankfully, Lehner helped keep them off the board.
A Leafs power play toward the end of the first required some improvisation from Brock Nelson and Scott Mayfield, who ended up with each other’s sticks after right-shooting Mayfield lost his stick and eventually was handled the lefty stick of Nelson, who later picked up Mayfield’s to give himself more of a chance to contribute to the kill.
With that, they reached the intermission tied 0-0.
Second Period: Ah, the power play
The scoreless tie was broken not by a star as you might expect in this game, nor by one of the trench diggers, but rather by a rookie as the Islanders conceded the traditional “guy’s first NHL goal” by Calle Rosen.
Rosen’s shot from the point deflected off an Islander stick to fool Robin Lehner, who still looked like he thought he should’ve had it.
Auston Matthews, who survived an Adam Pelech blast to the leg, also rang a shot off the crossbar to make things a little scary.
On the other side, though the Isles were getting some looks at even strength, Frederik Andersen did well to also cut down the angle on most of their looks. That included standing strong on a partial breakaway for Josh Bailey, who had a claim for a hook on the play that kept him from getting a full shot.
Although, would a penalty call really have helped?
Previously, at mid-period, the Islanders again reminded us what will almost surely be their downfall in the playoffs: the power play’s complete inability to generate anything sustained and dangerous.
Nazem Kadri gifted them the first power play, being too zealous with crease management in a post-whistle scrum. Soon after that one expired, Morgan Rielly was called for tripping Cal Clutterbuck.
Combined, the two Islanders power play opportunities resulted in three shots on goal, and burned the clock for the middle portion of the period.
Bailey’s break-in was their best chance as things wound down, though the Isles mounted a brief flurry in the final 20 seconds. Still, no change, 1-0 for Toronto at the second intermission.
Third Period: Welp
Tavares finally got his moment of feel-goodery in this long, emotional year since he skipped town: A goal at Nassau Coliseum.
It came 3:50 into the third period, making it 2-0 and making a close game feel near out of reach, despite the Islanders’ seven 0-2 comebacks this year.
Another futile Isles power play chance soon followed, with predictable results, though they finally got some decent structure in place by the final 30 seconds. Not that it mattered.
Jordan Eberle continued his late push for another 20-goal season to make it 2-1 with five minutes to go — and, be still our hearts, an actual power play goal! — but the Isles couldn’t manage an equalizer. That, of course, made Tavares’ goal stand up as the winner, which is about as significant as his final winner in blue and orange one year ago.
The Isles finish up with two on the road. First place is still within reach, and the finale is in D.C. against the first-place Caps. But the priority now is staying ahead of Pittsburgh.