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The New York Islanders gained a bit more ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race last night, earning a 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It marks a three-game win streak for the Islanders, following victories over the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks to close out their California road trip. That said, New York didn’t have a great first period and ended up down a goal through 20 minutes. Plus, if it weren’t for a ridiculous paddle save by Ilya Sorokin late in the frame, New York would’ve found themselves in a multi-goal hole.
However, Zach Parise got the Islanders on the board early in the second period to tie things up. Then after a relatively even second frame, two goals late in the period from Hudson Fasching and Cal Clutterbuck put New York up 3-1 through two periods.
Mitch Marner did pull the Leafs back to within one early in the third period, but Clutterbuck reinstated the two-goal lead shortly after with his second of the game. Then later, Simon Holmstrom made it a 5-2 game, managing to push the puck through Ilya Samsonov. An empty netter after that, along with a late marker from Anders Lee, left the Islanders with a 7-2 win.
The win didn’t come without some concern, though. Brock Nelson went face-first into the boards off a hit from Noel Acciari and ended up leaving the game and not returning. Obviously, losing Nelson while already without Barzal would be a massive blow for New York. Nelson has arguably been the team's most valuable skater, leading the Islanders in both goals and points. Being without him for even a couple games would be a massive issue.
That said, New York does seem to continue getting scoring by committee. Anders Lee snapped his four-game pointless skid with a goal and an assist, while Jean-Gabriel Pageau stayed hot, now with two goals and six points in four games since returning to the lineup. Hudson Fasching also continues to prove how valuable of a bottom-six forward he is and while Pierre Engvall didn’t get on the board against his former team last night, he was on a four-game point streak heading into the game.
The Islanders do need more from Bo Horvat though, and if Nelson is out, only more emphasis will go towards Horvat needing to produce. Horvat’s managed just a single assist over his last nine games and since coming to New York, he’s scored only five goals and nine points in 20 games. There’s obviously going to be an adjustment period with a new team, but this is a pretty major slump.
Some good news: the Florida Panthers also fell to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, which increased New York’s lead in the standings. The Panthers do still have a game in hand, but that’s a winnable matchup they dropped in regulation and New York is now three points up on them.
The Islanders have another important back-to-back coming this weekend, and with it a good opportunity to start to pull away with a wild card spot. They’ll face the Columbus Blue Jackets on the road in a Friday evening matchup, before returning home for a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
If you’re looking for a game to watch tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be in action against the Colorado Avalanche, as the Penguins try to catch the Islanders in the wild card race.
OTHER ARTICLES FROM MARCH
Islanders, Panthers and Penguins in battle for wild card spots in East