The first game back from the Olympic Break for both the New York Islanders and the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs ended in a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory in favor of the Islanders.
Thursday’s game marked the first competition for the team sporting a lineup without the teams points, goals and assists leader, Captain John Tavares, veteran leader, penalty killer and shootout specialist, Frans Nielsen and reigning NHL hits leader Matt Martin. In their place, the Islanders decided to call up their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ first line featuring AHL All-Star Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Mike Halmo to fill the gaps.
During the first period Halmo, playing in his first career NHL game was a spark plug on the energy line, delivering several bone crushing hits and knocking multiple Maple Leaf players to the ice on the night, much to the delight of Islander fans in the building.
The game was competitive and went back and forth, starting with Toronto’s Phil Kessel scoring first. Teammate Tyler Bozak carried the puck in along the right side boards to the top of the circles, before passing to Kessel in the slot, Kessel managed to sneak a snap shot past both Brock Nelson and Evgeni Nabokov for the first Leaf goal.
Nine minutes later, on a penalty kill Michael Grabner changed the complexion of the game when he not only scored one short handed goal to tie the game, but he scored a second 48-seconds later. Grabner’s first goal came as he intercepted a pass between Kessel and his teammate Morgan Reilly, after bringing the puck into the Toronto zone Cody Franson took the puck away from Grabner before attempting a pass to Bozak, that pass was picked off by Casey Cizikas who saucer passed to Grabner for the game tying goal. On the very next shift, after an Andrew MacDonald clear, Grabner kept up his aggressive fore-check as the puck reached Goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Bernier attempted to pass the puck to Reilly on the opposite side of Grabner, but the puck hit Reilly’s skate and bounced to Grabner for an easy goal to give the Islanders the lead heading into the first period
Later on in the game, after a scoreless second period, Toronto rallied back with consecutive goals from their Defensemen. Paul Ranger jumped up on a play and buried a James Van Riemsdyk rebound to tie the game 2-2. Then less than three minutes later, after an aggressive fore-check in the Islander zone by Van Riemsdyk, he dished the puck to Bozak, who found an uncovered Dion Phaneuf at the right face-off dot, Phaneuf delivered a snapshot past Nabokov that gave the Leafs the 3-2 lead.
One minute later, Brock Nelson drew a tripping penalty against Carl Gunnarsson. On the ensuing power-play, Calvin deHaan found Josh Bailey on the side of the net, Bailey waited to draw Bernier and the Toronto defenders to his side before passing to Anders Lee on the opposite side of the ice, with a wide-open net for an easy game-tying goal.
Toronto answered quickly, breaking out from their own zone with speed. Gunnarsson started the play as he passed to Nazem Kadri, who carried the puck to the blue line before dishing the puck to Joffrey Lupul. Lupul and Kadri did a “give and go” to get around Islanders Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and then Lupul was one-on-one against Evgeni Nabokov. Lupul went to his backhand and lifted the puck past Nabokov’s glove for the 4-3 lead.
Four Minutes later the Islanders managed to tie the game. After a shot from the point by Travis Hamonic the puck deflected to the corner, Ryan Strome scooped up the puck, and shot it to Anders Lee’s stick in front of the net. The puck went to Bernier’s five-hole, and after a few seconds slowly trickled out behind him, the play was whistled down, and reviewed and found to be a good-goal that beat the whistle, tying the game 4-4. The game was scoreless in the final three minutes and went to overtime.
With both teams taking runs at each other four-on-four, the game was decided at the 1.55 mark of overtime. Thomas Hickey carried the puck over the blue-line before dumping the puck into the corner, Brock Nelson skated to the puck and battled along the boards with Cody Franson, after a few seconds Mason Raymond and Jake Gardiner skated over to support Franson. With 3 Leafs players in the corner, Nelson shoveled the puck to the slot area looking for a teammate. Jame Van Riemsdyk picked up the puck, but upon pressure by Cal Clutterbuck had the puck jump over his stick. The puck then found it’s way to Lubomir Visnovsky directly in the slot, Visnovsky shot the puck five-hole beating Bernier for the overtime game-winning goal.
Three Stars of the Game
1) Michael Grabner
2) Anders Lee
3) James Van Riemsdyk
1)The injured Captain John Tavares was on hand and was recognized on the Jumbo-Tron during the first period with his Team Canada Hockey Olympic Gold Medal.
2)Travis Hamonic returned to play in his first game back from a 12-game absence after suffering a concussion.
3)Anders Lee recorded his second and third career goals on the night, in his first game of the 2013-2014 season, the game was his third career NHL game.
4)Both Michael Grabner and Toronto’s Phil Kessel continue their “hot streak” after returning back from the Sochi Olympics. Grabner had five-goals and one-assist, while Kessel had five-goals and three-assists during Olympic competition and was named “Best Forward at the 2014 Olympics”.