In what may have been the most bizarre game I’ll see all season, the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to overcome a 2-0 deficit to come back and sweep the New York Islanders in a home and home series. The Islanders took the lead early in the first period as John Tavares poached home a goal through Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson’s legs. It was Tavares’ 20th of the season, and came one game after he had his 12 game point streak snapped. The Leafs attempted to pressure for the equalizer, but the Islanders kept blocking shots, and the puck kept bouncing over blue and white sticks.
Islanders goalie Al Montoya was making his first start since coming back from a concussion suffered at the hands of Jets forward Evander Kane. Montoya was hardly tested in the opening forty minutes though as the Leafs were completely held in check by the Isles. Josh Bailey converted a nice Matt Martin feed partway through the second period while the Leafs were on a power play. Bailey outraced a hard charging Mikhail Grabovski to pot the Isles second goal of the night and an apparent back breaker. However with less than two minutes remaining Leafs coach Ron Wilson reunited the Kulemin – Grabovski – MacArthur line in an attempt to ignite his stagnant offense, and ignite it did. Grabovski stole the puck from an Islanders defenseman with just over a minute left in the middle frame behind the net to start the play. Grabo then found MacArthur with a beautiful no look pass as Mac scored his 13th goal of the season and first in 8 games. The goal seemed to awaken the Leafs as Joffrey Lupul almost evened the game immediately after, but Montoya came up with a big stop.
Toronto was determined though following the MacArthur goal, and the same two players came up big on the tying goal. Grabovski and MacArthur worked a great down low cycle before Grabovski fed rookie Jake Gardiner at the point. Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina meanwhile cross-checked MacArthur into Montoya just as Gardiner threw the puck on the net. With Montoya unable to maneuver in his own crease the Gardiner wrister beat him easily for the tying goal. The marker was Gardiner’s first ever NHL goal, and a great reward for the stalwart freshman.
The strange happenings than began to occur. Firstly the officials decided that they were no longer going to call penalties against either team. Both the Leafs and the Islanders were guilty of tripping, high sticking, cross-checking and hooking without recourse. It was odd in the sense that even the players on the ice were letting up expecting penalties to be called as blatant infractions went unnoticed. Grabovski and MacArthur (yes them again) benefitted from one of these non-calls as the Islanders turned the puck over in the Leafs zone leading to a 2-1 with less than four minutes remaining in the tie game. Grabovski held onto the puck and fired a wrist shot towards the net. Once again the Islanders defenseman deflected the puck before it got to Montoya, however this time the puck floated into the air and over a helpless Montoya as Grabovski had his third point of the night. The craziness continued though as the Islanders pressed to tie the game with Montoya on the bench for an extra attacker. Grabovski took the shoot in from the Isles and attempted to fire it around the boards and out of the zone. The puck bounced off the boards though and landed right in the slot in front of Gustavsson. PA Parenteau made no mistake as he sniped the shot past Jonas to send the game to OT.
In overtime Grabo and Mac broke in once again on a 2 on 1 thanks to an unnecessary pinch by Jurcina. On the break MacArthur was set up with a wide open net that was impossible to miss, but Montoya seemed to make the save of the year on the Leafs winger. Upon further review the puck had already crossed the line before Montoya caught it. With the win the Leafs moved into a tie for 7th in the Eastern Conference heading into the all-star break.
With the puck bouncing all over the place and a seemingly dormant Leafs team coming back for an improbable victory it once again shows that when the blue and white travel to Long Island entertainment is in store. It’s interesting that the Grabovski line was the one that dragged the Leafs back in this game and provided the offense on the night. This line was expected to produce at this rate all season and has been a significant disappointment. With trade rumours now swirling around all three members of that line, perhaps this performance can act as a spark for both this line and the Leafs heading into the stretch run of the season.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski - With a goal and three assists the relentless pivot put his team on his shoulders tonight. The Leafs needed a big performance to pull this one out, as two key points were seemingly slipping away. However #84 proved that that ‘A’ on his chest is there for a reason. Re-discovered some lost chemistry with MacArthur as well tonight.
Islanders: Travis Harmonic – The physical blueliner was entrusted with shutting down Leafs sniper Phil Kessel tonight. Harmonic took advantage of the lax officiating as he hacked and slashed and cross-checked Kessel every chance he got tonight. On this night the penalties weren’t called and Harmonic was effective holding Kessel scoreless and even taking the Leafs leading goal scorer to the penalty box with him in the second period.
Next Game: The Leafs don’t play again until next Tuesday when they begin a home and home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.