UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Playoffs? Well, the surging New York Islanders think they might still have a shot after this latest victory.
Blake Comeau’s tip-in with 57.3 seconds left in overtime led the Islanders to a 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. New York improved to 26-32-10 and is 10 points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re not out of it yet,” Comeau said. “As long as we keep winning, crazier things have happened.”
Michael Grabner, Zenon Konopka and Frans Nielsen also scored for the Islanders, who have won 11 of 19 since the all-star break. Al Montoya made 24 saves.
“I thought we did a good job of sticking together and sticking to what we had to do,” Comeau said. “It was a big two points. It was nice to get the win in overtime and not leave it up to the shootout.”
Grabner scored his 27th goal at 8:40 of the third period to give New York a 3-2 lead. But the advantage lasted for just over a minute as Nikolai Kulemin’s crease-crashing score tied it with 10:12 left in regulation.
Keith Aulie and Tim Brent had the other goals for the Maple Leafs, who trail the Buffalo Sabres by four points for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We said before the game they have the third-best record (since the all-star break),” Toronto’s Clarke MacArthur said of New York. “We just have to bring more. They’re a team with nothing to lose. That’s a dangerous team to play against sometimes. It doesn’t matter if they lose. They just outworked us.”
Konopka opened the scoring 2:15 into the second period as he tipped Milan Jurcina’s point shot past James Reimer, while being taken to the ice by Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.
It took only 34 seconds for the Leafs to respond as Aulie one-timed Brent’s feed past Montoya to tie it at 1-1.
“Nice to chip in,” Aulie said of his first NHL goal.” Nice to get my first one.”
Nielsen’s ninth goal of the season gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead with 8:43 left in the period. Nielsen shovelled Kyle Okposo’s rebound under Reimer, but Brent ended the period by jamming a loose puck in for a score.
Matt Martin missed a penalty shot in the second period for New York.
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson praised the performance of his checking line of Brent, Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown, who combined for a goal, three assists, four points and were a collective plus-4. But Wilson also criticized his top two lines.
“Our best players were guys on the third and fourth line,” Wilson said. “We needed a better effort than that from some people and we just didn’t get it. The top two lines weren’t generating anything (and) weren’t working as hard as we needed them to. Those are the guys we have come to rely on for offence.”
Neither Reimer nor Montoya were considered to be No. 1 goaltenders by their respective organizations at the start of the season. In Montoya’s case, he was with another franchise, but both have taken advantage of opportunities presented to them.
Reimer, who made his ninth start in a row, stopped 36 of 40 shots. He appeared to injure his glove hand early in the overtime after catching a shot by Nielsen. Reimer was examined by Leafs trainers before he was allowed to stay in the game.
“My hand is fine,” he said, a bag of ice covering it. “Shot caught me in the right spot. When I pulled my hand out, I was expecting my finger to be in a couple pieces.”
Montoya was the Islanders’ best player in this one, making a key stop on MacArthur on a 3-on-2 following Travis Hamonic’s defensive zone turnover late in the second period.
“I’m just trying to do what I can do,” Montoya said. “I’m feeding off the team right now. I just wanted to give the team a chance and make that save and be sharp.”
Notes: The Islanders hit the goal post on five shots. … Phaneuf was booed every time he touched the puck by the crowd of 9,217, who remembered his hit on Okposo last pre-season. Okposo was taken off the ice on a stretcher and suffered a concussion in that game. … Toronto was 0 for 3 on the power play. New York did not score on its lone man advantage.