The Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders met in an important game in Toronto on Tuesday with the Leafs prevailing 7-1.
The win puts the Leafs three points ahead of the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and just one point behind the Senators and Bruins in the Atlantic Division race.
Had the Islanders escaped with the two points, they would’ve leap-frogged the Leafs for the final wildcard spot in the conference. But as he’s done all season long, coach Mike Babcock matched Nazem Kadri up against John Tavares and the Islanders top line. Kadri, who was able to shut down Connor McDavid earlier this season in a stellar defensive effort, did the same to Tavares on Tuesday night – holding the Islanders captain to seven shots and a minus-one rating in nearly 23 minutes of ice-time.
On top of that, the Leafs dominated in the face-off circle winning 63 percent of the draws – including Tyler Bozak winning 83 percent and Kadri winning 64 percent.
The Leafs’ fourth line had an impressive game with Josh Leivo opening the scoring and adding two assists in just over nine minutes of play.
The tone was set pretty early between these two clubs when the Leafs’ Leivo whiffed on a wide open net just over two minutes into the game. From, the Leafs’ play coincided with coach Babcock’s new dressing room quote – Play Fast, Play Right.
The Islanders did manage a number of good opportunities in the first, including an Anders Lee tip in front of the net that just slid wide as Andersen was headed in the wrong direction. But from there, the period belonged to Toronto.
Connor Brown rung one off the post shortly after the Lee opportunity followed by a power play for the Leafs when Nikolay Kulemin took cross-checking penalty seven minutes into the frame.
But it wasn’t until about the midway point in the period when the Leafs opened the scoring. Adam Pelech tried backhanding a clearing attempt from behind the Islanders icing line. The play was cut off by Leivo at the top of the circle who snapped one back on Greiss to score his first goal of the season.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 15, 2017
The goal ended a streak by the Leafs of 23 straight goals where a rookie either scored or recorded an assist on the goal. On top of that, the numbers looked good for the Leafs who were 20-5-5 this season when they scored first.
But the action didn’t stop there. Just seconds after the Leaf goal, Brock Nelson pinged a hard shot of the post behind Andersen. Brown went off for the Leafs for holding, but the Islanders couldn’t take advantage. However, they did get another post on the power play when Josh Bailey fired one in behind Andersen as well.
All of that, and it was the Leafs who struck again in the dying second of the period. With just 32 seconds left, William Nylander found Nikita Zaitsev at the point. His shot was redirected in front and bounced right to Kadri who was able to tuck home his 21st of the season and first in 10 games.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 15, 2017
The second period started with Lee taking a hooking penalty just over three minutes into the frame. Casey Cizikas had a great shorthanded opportunity, but the Leafs power play was cut short when Mitch Marner was whistled for hooking Cizikas as he went in for another chance.
Neither team scored on their respective power plays, but Andersen was forced to make a number of outstanding saves. On one of them, Tavares got a pass at the side of the net and Andersen slid across the crease in a desperation move. The shot was fired off of Andersen’s mask and stayed out.
The Leafs added to their lead just over nine minutes into the period when Kadri muscled his way into the Islanders’ zone. He fired a pass across and the puck ricocheted off Greiss before bouncing off Nylander’s leg and in. The play was briefly reviewed, but deemed a good goal as there was no distinct kicking motion.
Following the goal, Roman Polak too an interference penalty that the Islanders weren’t able to capitalize on. And Matt Hunwick was whistled for getting his stick in the hands of Jason Chimera to spoil his breakaway. The referee awarded Chimera with a penalty shot that he was able to fire past Andersen high blocker side – the only shot that would get past Andersen on the night.
Kadri was called for a hook on Tavares late in the frame and following a tremendous glove save by Andersen, things started to get testy between the two clubs.
The third was much of the same. Kulemin was called for his second minor penalty of the game hooking Matthews to the ice. And as karma would have it, Matthews capitalized on the power play when he picked up the loose puck and tucked a backhand shot up over the shoulder of Greiss.
Matthews goal pic.twitter.com/PD5pryfMBY
— steph (@myregularface) February 15, 2017
Things heated up when Connor Carrick hip checked Ryan Strome into the boards. The two dropped the gloves in a lightweight, but spirited, tilt.
But it was all Leafs on this night. Just over seven minutes into the final frame, Marner stole the puck at the Islanders blue line passing it to James van Riemsdyk. He got a pass out front and Bozak tucked in his 14th of the year.
Just over four minutes later, Matthews was back at it. He picked the pocket of Cizikas inside the Islanders zone before getting it to Brown. Brown returned the favour to Matthews in front of the net and he was able to put away his second of the game and 27th goal of the season.
Matthews x2 pic.twitter.com/OpstHyxfi7
— steph (@myregularface) February 15, 2017
Finally, if that wasn’t enough, the Leafs won the offensive zone face-off with under five minutes left. The puck got back to Hunwick on the point who fired a puck that was tipped a number of times in front of Jean-Francois Berube (who filled in for Greiss) and got past the Islanders back-up. The goal was Hunwick’s first of the year and sealed a full 60-minute effort by the Leafs in this one.
TOR – Josh Leivo (1) unassisted
TOR – Nazem Kadri (21) assisted by Nikita Zaitsev and William Nylander
TOR – William Nylander (15) assisted by Nazem Kadri and Roman Polak
NYI – Jason Chimera (14) PS unassisted
TOR – Auston Matthews (26) PPG assisted by Leo Komarov and Josh Leivo
TOR – Tyler Bozak (14) assisted by James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner
TOR – Auston Matthews (27) assisted by Connor Brown
TOR – Matt Hunwick (1) assisted by Josh Leivo and Ben Smith
THW Three Stars
First: Josh Leivo (1 goal, 2 assists)
Second: Frederik Andersen (33 saves and the win)
Third: Auston Matthews (2 goals, 7 shots)
Toronto Maple Leafs at Columbus Blue Jackets
Nationwide Arena – 7:00 p.m. EST – Wednesday, February 15
Broadcast channels – TVAS, SN and FS-O
2016-17 Season Series: First meeting this season
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.