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Maple Leafs Needed That Type of Win to Show They Can Protect a Lead

Petr Mrazek made 27 saves with 14 of them coming in the second and the Toronto Maple Leafs successfully defended a two-goal lead in a 3-1 victory against the New York Islanders.

ELMONT, N.Y. -- It was 3-1 again. This time, the Toronto Maple Leafs kept it that way.

After a tense week that included their head coach calling out his team's play as "soft and purposeless" in a loss to the New York Rangers, the Maple Leafs jumped out to a two-goal lead and never let the New York Islanders chip away at to pick up a win to wrap up a six-game road trip that spanned all four time zones.

"It's not an easy game playing against the Islanders and those guys competed really hard, "Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "Our whole team just remained strong on their stick and we advanced the puck out of the zone and we were rolling.

It wasn't the offensive explosion of goals that we have come to expect from the Maple Leafs. In fact, they weren't able to generate much offensively at the start game. They went 0-for-2 on the power play within the first six minutes of the game.

But the offense did come in the unlikeliest of sorts, a shorthanded tally from Mitch Marner, who beat Isles goaltender Semyon Varlamov as the skater lost control of the puck."

"Ahh.. I meant for that to happen," joked Marner. "Obviously, I got pretty lucky. Sometimes when you don't know what you're doing on a breakaway, it goes in."

Marner has scored in all three games since his return from COVID-19 protocol and has had more jump in his step after a year that also included missing most of December with a shoulder injury.

He also has two shorthanded goals (three goals total) in two visits to UBS Arena.

With one minute to go in the first period, Islanders forward Zach Parise tied the game when he skated around Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren and beat Toronto goaltender Petr Mrazek with a backhanded play.

The Leafs could have come apart on the ensuing shift. Cal Clutterbuck had a breakaway chance for the Islanders seconds after Parise's goal. Mrazek had the presence of mind to see that Clutterbuck ran out of room as the defenders closed in. The goaltender came out several feet in front of the net to cut the angle down and make a much-needed save.

Twenty-nine seconds after Mrazek's save, Pierre Engvall restored Toronto's lead when he held the puck as time ticked down and he deked around Islanders defenseman Andy Greene and put a shot past Varlamov with 0.4 seconds remaining.

"It's pretty funny as a lot of guys were obviously screaming shoot it," Marner said of Engvall's scoring chance. "The fake shot to pull to backhand there, it's a pretty silky move it's a hard move to pull off."

Engvall extended his point streak to three games (one goal, three assists) and has become an important player for the club in a bottom-six role and helped put go into the intermission with the lead.

Apart from winning the special-teams battle, the Islanders had the better period at 5-on-5 with an expected goals-for percentage of 54 percent, per NaturalStatTrick.com

In the second period, the Leafs carried the pace of play with a 77 percent expected goals-for percentage and were rewarded with their third goal of the game.

Rielly picked his second point of the game when he went to the net after TJ Brodie's chance in close just missed. Brodie managed to keep the play alive and a series of passes culminated with Rielly as he connected on a one-timer from William Nylander for the 3-1 lead.

"I thought Brodes was going to score a highlight-reel goal," Rielly said of the play. "It was just a great pass from Will and when that happens you just got to finish it."

Reilly finished the game with a goal and an assist. His defense pair with Brodie was heavily relied upon on Wednesday when they took on the Rangers in their first game with defenseman Jake Muzzin (concussion). 

Saturday's game was no different. Rielly helped anchor the team's defense in the third period when the Islanders applied pressure at Toronto's net. The Islanders controlled the possession for much of the period, but the Leafs allowed just one high-danger chance to the Islanders at 5-on-5 in the third period. 

"Even as good as he is and the recognition that he gets, I still think he's looked upon as a little bit underrated," Leafs captain John Tavares said of Rielly. "He just does so much for us in different areas, he was great tonight."

That allowed Mrazek to find his groove and make some big saves down the stretch to pick up his first victory since Dec. 12, 2021.

"They boxed up pretty well and I could see the pucks from the blue (paint) and they gave me the first shot," Mrazek said of his defense. "If there was a rebound there, they cleared the puck out."

It wasn't a perfect game for the Maple Leafs by any means, but after a tense couple of days, the club picked up a win to wrap up a long road trip that and included a couple of days at home for a brief respite.

With two-goal leads evaporating in all but one of those games (they scored just once in a 2-1 loss to the basement-dwelling Arizona Coyotes), the win should give the team a boost of confidence before returning home.

"The third period wasn't perfect in terms of us controlling the play, we'd like to spend more time on their end of the ice like we did in the second (period)," Keefe said. "But I think it was progress and I think we defended pretty well."

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