The Eastern Conference standings just got a lot tighter as the New York Islanders picked up an important 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night. The Isles still sit in seventh spot, but are now just two points back of the fifth place Maple Leafs. Add in the fact that the Ottawa Senators stopped the Washington Capitals winning streak at eight games, and all of a sudden the Leafs are only one point ahead of the Sens as well.
This was Toronto’s second opportunity to clinch a playoff spot, but they needed a victory coupled with a Winnipeg Jets regulation loss to secure a berth. Once again both scenarios fell through. The Leafs were thoroughly outplayed and were fortunate to earn a 2-0 lead on only two shots. From there, however, the Islanders posted five straight goals and that was more than enough for the victory.
Here are some things that stood out from the game.
The concern over the Leafs constantly getting out-shot and out-chanced has been well documented, but tonight it finally caught up to them. They played poorly on Tuesday in Washington, although many could overlook that because of the back-to-back situation, but on this day there was no excuse. The Islanders finished the first period out-shooting the Leafs 19-5, and by the time the second ended it was 34-10. If not for goals on their first two shots and some big saves early from James Reimer, this one wouldn’t have even been close.
Lupul looked a lot stronger in his second game back from a concussion. He played much more aggressively than he did in Washington and was able to score a goal reminiscent of the beauty he notched a few weeks ago against the Carolina Hurricanes. Hopefully he can continue to progress to the level he was at before the injury and be prepared come playoff time. If the Leafs ever decide they actually want to clinch a spot.
Kessel gets an honourable mention tonight for his three assists. The sniper has become more of a distributor with the puck this season and has improved his all around game. Being able to create offense by setting up goals every now and then makes Kessel’s inevitable scoring slumps easier to deal with.
John Tavares an MVP Candidate
I was debating tonight on Twitter with Eye on Isles editor Richard Diaz if Tavares is worthy of a Hart nomination. After tonight’s performance he certainly is. Tavares had two goals with an assist and was clearly the best player on the ice. He sits third in the league with 26 goals and ranks in the top 10 when it comes to overall points. With Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, and Jonathan Toews all having elite seasons, Tavares will be in tough to earn a nomination. However, if the Islanders reach the post-season it will be primarily his doing and he should definitely be in the conversation.