The Islanders were 1:13 away from another big win that would’ve closed the gap to one point behind the Rangers for second place. Instead, they settled for a point in a disappointing 4-3 shootout loss at Toronto. Rookie William Nylander scored his second NHL goal on a rebound for a power play goal that forced extras.
After neither team did much in a oddly played three-on-three that was more notable for Isles’ captain John Tavares going off with 35 seconds left for hooking a diving Zach Hyman (embellishment), it went to the shootout. After the first six shooters missed, Leafs’ forward Nikita Soshnikov scored the only goal on a backhand that beat Thomas Greiss in the top of Round 4. Cal Clutterbuck was unable to match him sending a high shot over the net with winning Toronto netminder Garret Sparks challenging.
In the second game of a back-to-back following a fourth straight win, the Isles struggled with the league’s worst team. If the season concluded today, the Leafs would have the best chance of winning the NHL lottery where prized American prospect Auston Matthews awaits. Even by snapping a six-game winless streak, they’re still four points worse than closest suitors Edmonton and Winnipeg. They have 55 points with 16 games left. With nothing to play for, Toronto finally recalled former first round pick Nylander. The older son of former Ranger Michael Nylander, he was selected eighth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. In six games, he has two goals. Younger brother Alex Nylander should be a first or second round pick this summer.
While Toronto continues to rebuild under the management of Team President Brendan Shanahan, GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock, the Islanders are chasing the Rangers for second in the Metropolitan Division. Having won the first three regular season meetings including Sunday’s bizarre 6-4 triumph in which Clutterbuck got the winner with 1:28 left off a faceoff, the Isles are in good position to overtake their Manhattan rivals for home ice in a potential first round series. They have 83 points with 17 games remaining. Two more than the Rangers, who still own the first tiebreaker with three more ROW (regulation overtime wins) 36-33. It could come down to the final meeting on April 7 at MSG.
Tavares got his team-leading 25th unassisted beating Sparks on a breakaway five-hole to start the scoring. The goal also moved him a point in front of Kyle Okposo for the team lead in scoring. He is up to 53 points (25-28-53). Okposo has 52 including a team best 35 assists and 20 power play points (6-14-20).
Following Toronto goals from Hyman and defenseman Morgan Rielly, the Islanders bounced back on goals from Nick Leddy and Ryan Strome, who erased a nine-game drought to put them up 3-2 with 5:19 remaining in regulation. However, a Strome hooking minor resulted in the Leafs pulling Sparks for a six-on-four advantage. Greiss leaked out a juicy rebound of a low Nazem Kadri shot right to Nylander, who tied the contest. It was the Leafs’ second power play goal in four chances. A disappointing result for the Isles’ third ranked penalty kill.
Notes: Tavares’ goal was the 199th of his career. In 494 games, the 2009 first overall pick is 199-255-454. The most points out of the ’09 Class. Avalanche third overall pick Matt Duchene is second with 371. Ryan O’Reilly (295), Evander Kane (252) and Marcus Johansson (224) round out the top five. … With a goal and assist, Leddy has three straight multi-point games and is 1-6-7 over the past four. … D Calvin de Haan sat out with a lower body injury. … In his first start with Jaroslav Halak out six weeks due to a groin injury, Greiss turned aside 33 of 36 shots while extending his unbeaten string in regulation to nine. He’s 7-0-2 in those starts with a overtime loss to Washington and a shootout loss to Toronto. … Islanders (37-20-8, 82 Pts) visit Bruins (38-23-7, 83) Saturday at 1 PM.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-William Nylander, TOR (game-tying goal (2nd in NHL) at 18:47 of 3rd, 7-and-9 on faceoffs in 23 shifts-15:59)
2nd Star-Nick Leddy, NYI (goal-5th, assist in 24 shifts-23:11 incl. 21:57 ES)
1st Star-Nikita Soshnikov, TOR (shootout winner in Rd. 4, 5 SOG in 25 shifts-17:39)