UNIONDALE, N.Y. – It took until the final game of a four-game homestand for the New York Islanders to capitalize on the home-ice advantage.
Trent Hunter and John Tavares scored 90 seconds apart in the second period, and Dwayne Roloson made 26 saves to help the Islanders beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Wednesday night.
“We kept it simple,” Tavares said. “Our last few games we’ve been sloppy. We stayed out of the penalty box and we had a back-pressure that took the pressure off the defencemen.”
Blake Comeau was awarded a goal with 34.9 seconds left after being taken down on a breakaway with an empty net.
Jonas Gustavsson made 20 saves for the Toronto, which lost for the fourth consecutive time away from Air Canada Centre. Niklas Hagman scored in third period for Toronto as the Maple Leafs outshot New York 14-6, in the final 20 minutes.
“We didn’t compete hard enough on our forecheck until it was too late,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said.
Roloson, who logged a career-high 58 saves in a win over Toronto on Nov. 23, has made 110 saves on 117 shots in three games against the Maple Leafs this season.
“We’ve played well and stayed with the program and did the little things to win hockey games,” Roloson said. “We simplified the game. We weren’t giving them time to make plays.”
Hagman ended Roloson’s shutout bid with a rebound goal 1:58 into the final period. Roloson made a pad save on Tomas Kaberle’s point shot before Hagman pushed in the rebound at the left post.
Twice the red goal light accidentally went off behind Roloson in the final five minutes. But the netminder protected the one-goal lead, including a tricky pad save on Lee Stempniak’s point-blank shot from the slot with under three minutes remaining.
“They came out hard in the third period and we didn’t play with a lot of poise with the puck,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “(Roloson) came up big at the end.”
Comeau was driven into the boards by Francois Beauchemin on a breakaway. Toronto pulled its goalie for the extra attacker and by rule the officials awarded the Islanders the goal. Comeau finished with a two-point night.
New York entered with just one power-play goal in 21 chances over the last five games. Hunter’s sixth goal 12:17 into the second came three seconds after Toronto’s penalty expired, though the extra-man opportunity still set-up the goal.
Before Jeff Finger was able to rejoin the play out of the penalty box, Hunter blasted a hard wrist shot from the low left circle to open the scoring.
“I think I lost the puck,” Gustavsson said. “I don’t know if I was screened but I didn’t see where he shot it. I think it hit in my shoulder and the post.”
A late Maple Leafs’ penalty officially made the Islanders 0-for-4 on the power play, and New York is 1-for-27 in the past six games.
“We’ve got to start getting it going and start producing more,” Tavares said. “I thought it was better today but we need to keep improving.”
Former Islander Jason Blake appeared to tie it less than a minute later when he batted down a high puck past Roloson. The officials immediately waved the goal off, ruling Blake had touched the puck with a high stick.
New York completed the momentum swing moments later when Tavares broke his personal five-game pointless streak with a goal just 1:30 after Hunter’s tally.
Comeau set up Tavares 16th goal by rushing off the right circle, forcing Gustavsson to commit wide. That left Tavares open in the slot to slam the pass into the empty net for a 2-0 edge heading into second intermission. Tavares’ last scored in a two-goal effort against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 9.
“John has such high expectations to be able to produce on a consistent basis,” Gordon said. “Every player has their stretches where they aren’t going to get points.”
Tavares, the No. 1 pick this year, leads the Islanders in goals.
The Islanders (35 points) moved ahead of Toronto (34 points) in the Eastern Conference standings.
“They were right behind us and we didn’t want them to catch up to us,” Tavares said. “It was a big win to feel good heading into the holidays.”
NOTES: Toronto LW Viktor Stalberg missed the game because of an upper-body injury. Stalberg had scored two goals in three games since being recalled from the American Hockey League Dec. 17. … Islanders LW Jeff Tambellini was a healthy scratch for a seventh straight game. … New York wore its white uniforms at home for just the second time this season.