TORONTO – So that’s what Mikhail Grabovski looks like.
The five-foot-11 forward’s vanishing act went poof when he scored 50 seconds into overtime to give the Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. It was his first goal in 18 games since Jan. 29.
“The coach had faith in me and gave me a chance to play in overtime,” said Grabovski. “It’s my first career goal in overtime so I’m pretty happy.
“Before, I had games with lots of chances but I couldn’t score. My hands, maybe. But the coach believed in me and he kept me in there.”
The Islanders blew a chance to clear the puck from their zone and, after two teammates took whacks at the puck, Grabovski fired it in from the middle of the zone with goalie Joey MacDonald out of position after making a save. It was Grabovski’s 14th goal of the season.
Coach Ron Wilson was relieved for the Russian-trained speedster.
“The way things have been going for him I could see that puck bouncing and a swing and a miss,” said Wilson. “Fortunately, he got his stick on it.
“Even during the game, there were a few times where I didn’t know where he was (on the bench). He was so worried about scoring (and ending the drought), but he got a bounce tonight. He was in the right spot and got the job done.”
Lee Stempniak and Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for the Leafs, many of whom actually say they retain hopes of skating into the post-season.
“It feels good (to win)” said Grabovski. “We need every game to have a chance to make the playoffs.”
Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau scored for the Islanders, who had won four of their previous five games and got a point out of this one to further enhance their late-season bid to shed the label of worst team in the NHL.
It was No. 24 versus No. 30 – two teams going nowhere – at the opening faceoff.
Stempniak beat MacDonald with a low wrist shot from the middle of New York’s zone to open the scoring with his 12th goal at 17:27 of the first period.
Okposo tied it by whacking in a bouncing puck at the front of Martin Gerber’s crease for his 15th of the season at 17:42, and Comeau gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead when he fired in a long shot for his seventh goal at 18:27 with Gerber distracted by Mike Iggulden’s attempt to deflect the puck.
The Islanders were unable to add to their lead in the first half of the second period despite having manpower advantages for five minutes as a result of three consecutive Toronto penalties.
The Leafs had their inept moments, too.
During a fourth straight Islanders manpower advantage late in the second, John Mitchell got a breakaway. All alone and with wads of time, he lost control of the puck as he approached MacDonald and the puck slid into a corner without a shot being taken.
The Isles, having won only six of 31 road games, got yet another chance to nail down a seventh when Toronto was assessed another penalty with four seconds left in the second period. They began the third period with a fifth consecutive manpower advantage but they again fumbled through it without success despite Toronto’s penalty-killing rank of 29th.
“We had some great possession and time in the offensive zone but we just didn’t convert the chances we had,” said coach Scott Gordon.
The Leafs were all over the Islanders when they got their second power-play chance and first since the opening period in the sixth minute of the third. MacDonald heroics kept New York in the lead – but not for long.
With the teams back at even strength, Ponikarovsky tied it 2-2 with his 19th goal at 8:46 when he knocked down an Islanders clearing attempt and rifled the puck into a top corner of the net. MacDonald might have stopped it had he stayed on his feet instead of dropping to his knees.
The tiebreaker by Grabovski ended the sloppy contest.
The Isles had a 30-26 shots edge through 60 minutes and the Leafs got off the only two shots on goal in extra time.
As difficult as the season has been for the Islanders, Gordon is happy about the team’s recent play.
“I look at it as two seasons,” he said. “The first half was obviously very frustrating in that we lost our No. 1 goaltender and . . . all the other injuries.
“The second half has been a breath of fresh air. Our guys have responded and what we hoped would happen in the first half is now happening in the second half.
“The compete level from all the individuals has been tremendous. As a result, we’ve become a hard team to play against. Any coach will tell you that, when you can walk away from a game saying his team is a hard team to play against, it’s a satisfying feeling.”
Notes(at): Wilson went off on reporter Howard Berger during his post-game news conference for a comment on radio on Monday that Wilson took as criticism. “That’s questioning my integrity as a coach in this league,” Wilson told Berger . . . Announced attendance was 19,041 – second-smallest Air Canada Centre gathering this season. The seats of dozens of season ticket subscribers were unoccupied . . . The Leafs remain home to play Tampa Bay on Thursday and Calgary on Saturday . . . G Vesa Toskala underwent season-ending surgery Monday to repair a labrum tear in his hip . . . D Mike Van Ryn tore a medial collateral ligament in his left knee Saturday and is gone for the duration, while D Jonas Frogren sprained a knee ligament in the 4-1 loss to Edmonton and will be out for a month . . . D Brendan Witt returned to the Islanders lineup after serving a five-game suspension for a hit to the head of Leafs RW Niklas Hagman, who remains out.