UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The New York Islanders have been on the losing end of many roller-coaster finishes this season. So Lubomir Visnovsky’s overtime goal lifting them to a wild 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs was especially satisfying.
The veteran defenceman’s unassisted tally 1:55 into extra time ended a see-saw contest Thursday night in which the teams combined for five goals in an 8 1/2-minute span of the third period.
The winner came after Anders Lee scored two tying goals for the Islanders in his first game of the season. Evgeni Nabokov made 18 saves for New York, which improved to 5-1-2 in their last eight games against Toronto.
“Our singular focus is the task at hand, one period at a time and one game at a time,” said Islanders coach Jack Capuano, whose squad will be without top scorer and captain John Tavares for the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered at the Olympics. “That team is big and strong. I like the fact we kept moving forward tonight.”
Joffrey Lupul put Toronto ahead 4-3 with just over six minutes left in the third before Lee knotted the score at 17:20 with his second of the game. Lupul’s 18th of the season at 13:54 came just over a minute after Lee tied it at 3 with his first goal.
Lee’s power-play goal came after Dion Phaneuf had put Toronto ahead 3-2 at 11:26.
Phaneuf’s sixth goal of the season came less than three minutes after Paul Ranger tied it at 2.
“You can’t win in this league giving goals as gifts,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “They tried to grind and we tried to outskill them. They did a better job.”
After Toronto’s Phil Kessel opened the scoring at 6:53 of the first with his 32nd goal of the season, New York’s Michael Grabner scored two short-handed goals 48 seconds apart late in the period.
The Islanders held that lead entering the third before the outburst by both teams.
Kessel, who scored five goals for Team USA in Sochi, took a pass in the high slot before whipping the puck past Nabokov. Only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin has more goals than Kessel.
Grabner answered for the Islanders with his first short-handed score at 15:53 off an assist from Casey Cizikas. The Austrian forward then took advantage of a misplay by Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier, intercepting an attempted pass by the netminder in the crease and sliding the puck into the empty net at 16:41.
The goal was the 11th of the season for Grabner, who tied Kessel in goals at the Olympics.
“It’s a game of mistakes, but at least we got a point out of it,” Bernier said.
The last Islanders player to score two short-handed goals on the same power play was Ziggy Palffy, 53 seconds apart on April 17, 1999.
“We kept coming and obviously had a big shift to score that tying goal,” Grabner said. “Everyone fed off each other tonight. We still have a lot of games left. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
The Islanders (23-30-8), had lost seven of eight games heading into the Olympic break.
They were also without forwards Frans Nielsen (hand) and Matt Martin (lower body). Both had played all 60 previous games this season, while Tavares had missed only one contest.
The Islanders earlier this week recalled the entire top line from AHL Bridgeport: Lee, Ryan Strome and Mike Halmo, who made his NHL debut. Lee played two games for the Islanders last season with one goal and one assist. Strome, who assisted on Lee’s second tying goal, has one goal and four assists in 16 games with the Islanders this season.
Nielsen, who has a career-best 18 goals, ended his streak of 189 consecutive regular-season games played. He suffered a hand injury in New York’s last game before the break on Feb. 8. Martin had played 121 straight games and also was hurt in the Feb. 8 home loss to Colorado.
The Maple Leafs (32-22-7) came in 11-2-1 before the break. Toronto is battling Montreal and Tampa Bay in the closely packed Atlantic Division as the Leafs trying to reach the playoffs for the second straight season after missing every year since 2004.
The Leafs had won three straight and four of their last five at Nassau. But Nabokov was strong throughout, stopping Troy Bodie with his glove four minutes into the second and denying James Van Riemsdyk—who had three assists—in front midway through the middle period.
NOTES: The Islanders are just 9-14-8 at home this season. They had lost six straight at Nassau Coliseum, including the last two before the break against Calgary and Colorado. … It was the third and final meeting between the teams this season and the only contest at Nassau Coliseum. The teams split two games at the Air Canada Centre. … The Islanders are 20-7-3 when they score at least three goals, and are 3-23-5 when they do not.