TORONTO – In their two games in Toronto against the Maple Leafs this season, the New York Islanders have followed a similar script.
On Thursday night, the Islanders conceded goals on the first two shots against before roaring back for a 5-3 victory.
It mirrored what happened at Air Canada Centre just a handful of games into the shortened season when New York spotted the Leafs a two-goal lead after the first period before storming back for an emphatic 7-4 win.
That tough-to-beat attitude is emblematic of an Islanders team that’s within touching distance of a first playoff appearance in seven seasons.
“I really like the way we’ve been handling a lot of situations,” said John Tavares, who scored twice on Thursday. “As the season’s gone along we’ve got a lot better at handling them and when you experience them and you start to gain success, that breeds good confidence and that belief in the locker-room.”
As the team prepares for its big move across Long Island from the decrepit Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale to the lavish new Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015, the players are hoping to leave a few good memories in the old building.
Thursday’s win moved the Islanders to two points back of the Leafs for fifth place in the Eastern Conference and for the first time in a long time, there’s excitement around the team.
“(The playoffs) are what our fans want. It’s what they deserve and the people care about the team,” said Tavares. “We’ve had great support this season and the last few weeks really pushing us on. We just want to reward them and it’s one game at a time for us.”
With a mix of building through the draft and adding some veterans in the lineup, the Islanders have proven to be a tough ask for teams.
With top draft picks like Tavares leading the way, the club has mixed youth and experience in a way that looks to be paying off as the regular season reaches the final stretch.
“I think we’ve got some guys in here that have matured over the years,” said head coach Jack Capuano. “We have a young team. I think guys like Nabokov and Brad Boyes, guys that have been there before, have been vocal and really good for us.”
The only way the Islanders will get back to that buzzing home experience is by doing it the hard way as they finish the last four games of the regular season on the road.
But as they’ve shown in games in Toronto this season, they’re a tough team to beat and there there’s no shortage of motivation in the locker-room as they look to rebuild the reputation of the franchise.
“I believe in this team and what we’ve got so it’s great for me to hopefully be a part of bringing the Islanders back to where we know we can be,” said Tavares. “Being in the playoffs, being competitive, and that tradition that so many people care about.”