Tavares OT Winner Lifts Islanders Over Leafs

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Islanders Travares scores overtime goal against Maple Leafs

Tonight’s Recap

The Islanders took the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre tonight. Goalie Michal Neuvirth came in to the game hoping for better results in his second start with the Islanders after taking a shootout loss against the Panthers last time out. Trade deadline acquisition forward Tyler Kennedy was penciled in by Jack Capuano earlier in the day to make his debut.

The Isles were wrapping up a four game road trip in which they had collected points in all three of the team’s previous games. The Leafs entered the game coming off a tough 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues and were winners of only three of their last ten.

The teams came out skating fast, exchanged penalties early, but neither team could capitalize. Kennedy had a good scoring opportunity seven minutes into the period for the Isles, but was denied by the Leafs’ goalie, Jonathan Bernier.

After a high-sticking penalty to Ryan Strome and a Cal Clutterbuck penalty, the Islanders had their first big test of the game as the Leafs went to the 5 on 3 advantage. Islanders fans were treated to what seems to be the new and improved Islanders’ penalty kill. The unit was aggressive, checking Maple Leaf defenders at the Isles’ blue line and Neuvirth made the necessary saves. Both players were released from the box and the game remained scoreless.

The Islanders did generate some chances after the kill, but the Leafs drew first blood. After the Islanders couldn’t get a bouncing puck under control in the Leafs’ end, David Booth received a pass as he was speeding into the neutral zone. Booth bounced the puck off the boards to get around Nick Leddy, skated to Neuvirth and flipped a backhanded shot over the goalie’s shoulder. The Leafs took the lead 1-0 and that’s how the score remained until the break.

The goal was Toronto’s first goal in a first period in six games. It was another frustrating start for the Islanders who are one of the league’s highest scoring teams in the first period and trailed one of the league’s lowest first period scoring teams heading in to the second frame.

The best scoring opportunity of the second period for the Isles came ten minutes in when Josh Bailey connected with a wide open John Tavares in front of the Toronto goal, but he was denied by Bernier. Before their shift ended, Bailey and Anders Lee created a 2 on 1 opportunity, but Bernier was up to the task again. The Leafs’ goalie was looking strong after getting yanked in his previous outing.

The Leafs began to feed off their goaltender’s performance. With Travis Hamonic pinching, a weak clearing pass out of the Leafs’ zone wasn’t picked up at the point and Richard Panik grabbed the puck and took off towards the Islanders’ end. Panik’s initial shot was saved by Neuvirth but the rebound hit Calvin de Haan’s skate and slid on to the blade of a waiting Peter Holland who went top shelf over the Isles’ net minder to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead.

Toronto took the 2-0 lead into the intermission. For the third time in five games the Metro division leading Islanders were struggling with a below .500 team. At this point in the season, fans were hoping for a more dominating performance from the Isles. They were outshooting Toronto, but pucks just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net.

The Islanders took the ice in the 3rd without defenseman Nick Leddy, who injured his shoulder in the second. It was the teams’ first time without the defender all year and it certainly didn’t seem like a good sign.

Early in the 3rd, Neuvirth made perhaps his best save since joining the Islanders on a close range shot by Phil Kessel and the Islanders responded. Kennedy led a strong rush into the Leafs’ zone and Tavares picked up the puck behind the net. Tavares brought the puck back out in front, fed the puck back to Kennedy who fired the shot over Bernier’s right shoulder.

Toronto wouldn’t let the Isles back in easily, however. James van Riemsdyk scored an unassisted wrist shot at 6:06 of the period and the Leafs regained their two goal lead.

The Islanders pulled back within one on a power play goal by Frans Nielsen at 9:58 of the period. 30 seconds later, Casey Cizikas deflected a Travis Hamonic shot from the point by Bernier and the game was all tied up at three.

It was the Leafs who responded with more energy as Neuvirth made two outstanding saves 20 seconds apart immediately after the goals were scored to keep the game even.

The game went into overtime. Prior to the game that would have been a disappointing scenario,but given that the Isles outscored the Leafs 3-1 in the 3rd to create the showdown, nobody in Islanders Country should have been complaining as the team had at least clinched points in all four games of their road trip. But everyone wanted two points tonight.

At the four minute mark of the overtime it looked like the Isles were heading for their second straight shootout, but the captain had other things in mind. Tavares picked up a pass from Travis Hamonic at center ice, charged into Toronto’s zone, maneuvered in and around three Toronto defenders and found an opening between Bernier’s pads where he delivered the winning goal.

John Tavares remains the NHL leader in points and the Isles remain on top the Metropolitan Division. There’s no time to rest, however. They are back home to face the Rangers tonight in a battle for two points that could determine who wins the Metropolitan Division.

Game Stats

  • The much maligned penalty kill unit was 4-4 tonight and has looked better lately.
  • Toronto won the faceoff battle 39-31
  • With the Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck line reunited the Isles outhit the Leafs 41-34.
  • The Islanders outshot the Leafs 44-25
  • The Islanders are now three points ahead of the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.
  • The Islanders are tied for the conference lead in points on March 9th. This is the latest they have been tied for the conference lead since the 1983-’84 season.
  • With tonight’s win, the Islanders have reached the 90 point mark for the 13th time in franchise history.

Stars Of The Game

1. John Tavares – He scores another game winning goal in OT and assisted Kennedy’s goal early in the 3rd to get the team started

2. Tyler Kennedy – Earns the second star in his first game with the Islanders. His first goal opened up the scoring for the Islanders and he was credited with an assist on JT’s OT winner.

3. Michal Neuvirth – Earns the third star in his first Islander win. His save against Kessel in the 3rd seemed to be a momentum changer and he saved all 5 shots he saw on the penalty kill. He was 22-25 overall, which still isn’t great, but he collected three of four points for the team while Halak rested. At this point of the season that is huge.

Scoresheet

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Game Video

 

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