Jason Blake’s career-high 40th goal was the game-winner, and Wade Dubielewicz stopped 28 shots to lead the Islanders to a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
“Forty goals is a great feeling, but the bigger concern was winning this game,” Blake said. “Considering we got the win and we’re still alive, it feels good to hit a milestone like that. A few years ago, I never thought I’d have this opportunity.”
Blake, Arron Asham and Miroslav Satan scored in the third period to prolong New York’s post-season hopes. They need to win both games this weekend – road games at Philadelphia and New Jersey – and hope Toronto beats Montreal on Saturday.
“I don’t care who we play – if we play the way we did tonight, we can beat anybody,” Dubielewicz said. “Our defensive effort took their space away from in front of the net. We kept them to the outside and didn’t give them many dangerous shots.”
Ryan Smyth and Mike Sillinger also scored for the Islanders.
John Pohl and Carlo Colaiacovo scored for Toronto, while Andrew Raycroft stopped 22 shots.
“We have not done one thing this year the easy way,” Toronto coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve had to scratch and claw and fight back, and now we need some help, but we’re still in the thick of things.”
Losses by both Toronto and Montreal clinched a playoff spot for idle Tampa Bay. The Canadiens can clinch the last Eastern Conference playoff spot with a win in Toronto.
In an up-tempo first period which featured few whistles, the Islanders took a 1-0 lead with 3:03 left when Smyth knocked in a rebound of Sillinger’s shot for his 36th goal this season – his fifth score as an Islander, and his first in eight games.
Toronto tied the score with Pohl’s goal with the teams skating 4-on-4 at 13:36 of the second period.
The Islanders got the lead back with 25.6 seconds left in the period on their only power-play chance when Sillinger’s wrist shot beat Raycroft to the far corner.
Colaiacovo tied the game 2:12 into the final period. He beat Dubielewicz from the outer left circle with a wrist shot that hit the goalie on its way in.
“We had a good feeling once we tied it up,” Toronto forward Matt Stajan said. “And then they got one right back, and we just couldn’t get it by (Dubielewicz).”
The Islanders answered back 94 seconds later.
Blake did all the work himself to notch his 40th goal of the season to give the Islanders their third lead at 3:46. He picked up the puck behind Toronto’s net, skated to the right corner, beat a Maple Leaf out of the corner, continued up the right boards to the point, then moved to the centre point and skated in towards the left circle before beating Raycroft with a 30-foot wrist shot.
Asham gave the Islanders a cushion when he blasted a left circle screen shot past Raycroft for his 11th goal at 11:49. Asham, who was goal-less in a 30-game span, now has scored in consecutive games.
“They were patient tonight and capitalized on their chances,” Toronto captain Mats Sundin said. “You can tell we were a little uptight tonight. We weren’t making plays. We have to get more traffic in front of the net and more shots on Saturday night.”
Toronto pulled Raycroft with 2:18 left in the game, but Satan got an empty-net goal with 1:55 left.
“We lost a chance to control our own fate here,” Stajan said. “We need to win Saturday, and get help from either Philadelphia or Jersey.”
With the absence of Rick DiPietro, Dubielewicz is making the most of his chance in net.
“Confidence usually starts from the goaltending out,” Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. “We’ve been very blessed all season long to have Ricky between the pipes until he went down. (Mike) Dunham tried his best, but unfortunately for him, bad timing and bad bounces happened. It was a lucky time for Wade Dubielewicz to come in and do his thing. He’s been absolutely great the last two games.”
Nolan even had praise for his rivals.
“The Rangers did a great job tonight,” Nolan said about New York’s win over Montreal that kept the Islanders’ playoff chance going. “Now we need a great game from the Leafs in Toronto on Saturday.”
Notes: Sundin has now gone 11 games without a goal. He needs one goal to tie Darryl Sitler for most goals in a Toronto uniform (389). … Blake became the 11th player in an Islander uniform to hit the 40-goal mark. … Alexei Yashin’s point-scoring streak was snapped at seven games. … The Islanders, which drew 14,352 for their home finale, wound up with six sellouts in the 2006-07 season: three (of four) games against the Rangers, two against New Jersey, and one against Montreal.