Toronto Maple Leafs Poke The Bear (Er– The New York Islanders) And Pay The Price


Apr 18, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders forward John Tavares (91) during the pre game warm up against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO, Ontario – The New York Islanders played both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in what amounted to a virtuoso performance on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, en route to a 5-2 victory.

It’s seems appropriate that the breaks between the periods in hockey are called “intermissions.”

The Isles (23-16-5, 51 points) earned two hard-fought points from the Leafs in what appeared to be, at first, another typical Islanders-type performance. That is, until the same old Islanders decided that they were tired of rolling over and started playing for real.

Short of having a heart attack, the first-period emotional roller coaster gave me just about all the excitement I could handle from the Isles. (I’m still not sure how I’ll deal with the intensity of a playoff series, but I’m working on that.)

From the early 5-on-3 power play that the Islanders couldn’t convert (despite some pretty passing in front of Leafs goalies James Reimer); to the two quick goals by the Leafs that brought the crowd to life; to the back-to-back fights initiated by head coach Jack Capuano’s late lineup additions Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton; to the Brad Boyes goal, to the Matt Moulson goal, TO THE JOHN TAVARES GOAL…you get my point.

Was anyone else out of breath after the first 20 minutes of play?

Shortness of breath aside, Isles fans would certainly take a first period like that, provided it resulted in a win for the team. It almost felt like we were in for a blowout from the start, but New York battled back.

As Cappy is fond of saying, the “battle level” of his team was right where it needed to be. And there were definitely no passengers wearing blue and orange tonight.

The Isles top line of Moulson–Tavares–Boyes announced their presence in a huge way against the Leafs, accounting for four goals and four assists in the game.

It would appear that the fears of Isles Nation that their top goal scorers had lost their touch were unfounded. Not that any of us were panicking, or anything…

Tavares must have had extra motivation – as did Moulson and Boyes – playing in Toronto, roughly half an hour from where he grew up in Mississauga. Perhaps playing in front of family and friends at the Air Canada Centre was the cure for what ailed him.

That is, if you could classify a four-game pointless streak as something that “ailed him.”

Apr 18, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders forward Brad Boyes (24) and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (11) and forward Matt Moulson (26) celebrate a goal by New York Islanders forward John Tavares (91) against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tavares scored his first goal at 17:24 of the first period, off a tip in front of the net that was originally given to Moulson. Upon further review of the play, Johnny was credited with the goal. And as it turned out, Tavares wasn’t done.

Johnny again found the back of the net at 14:40 of the second period, off a nice pass from Boyes. The chemistry between the top line members was on full display as Boyes gained the offensive zone and drove to the goal line, put on the brakes and slid a pass to Tavares stationed in the slot.

Tavares, head up, beat Reimer glove-side to give the Isles a 4-2 lead and some much-needed breathing room.

The Maple Leafs, to their credit, didn’t quit after controlling much of the possession in the second period, only to surrender a goal. At the start of the third period, they forced the Islanders to short-shift their lines as they pressured New York deep in their defensive zone.

The Isles were able to weather the storm and put another one on the board late in the period, all but ensuring the win.

Kyle Okposo was quiet for most of the game, although he was playing well; he kept his skates moving and was a grinder along the boards while winning lose pucks and cycling when the plays weren’t there to be made.

After a beautiful breakout from the Isles end, Okposo beat two Leafs along the nearside boards and crossed into the Toronto zone, where he found his line mate Frans Nielsen trailing the play for a quick shot.

Reimer couldn’t locate the puck – due to a Josh Bailey screen – and Nielsen had his fifth goal of the year.

If you’re looking for nits to pick, the Isles didn’t play their best hockey during the game’s first 10 minutes; they also gave up a late third-period goal after taking a couple bad penalties. On the whole, however, Isles fans should be happy with tonight’s result.

It was a classic Islanders game. But it was “classic” in the sense that these 2013 Islanders are grinders, through and through. There’s no more rolling over and dying when things aren’t going according to plan.

If the NHL analysts haven’t been watching the Isles all season, they’re about to see a lot more of them over the next few weeks – if not longer. There’s no doubting it anymore: the Islanders are playing the type of hockey that playoff teams play.

The Islanders, man. The ISLANDERS.