John Tavares tallied the game winner as the Leafs picked up a big 2-1 win on Long Island Monday night, securing a playoff spot for the third straight season.
AFTER SCORELESS OPENING FRAME, LEAFS GET FIRST LEAD OF GAME VIA ROSEN'S FIRST-EVER NHL GOAL EARLY IN SECOND
Determined to end their two-game losing streak, the Maple Leafs were in Long Island Monday night to take on the playoff-bound New York Islanders. And although the Islanders beat Toronto 6-1 in their most recent meeting Feb. 28, the Leafs started Monday's game by doing well in the possession game, outshooting the Isles 16-12 in a scoreless first period. Both goalies - Frederik Andersen in Toronto's end, and Robin Lehner in New York's - played very well in the first 20 minutes, but you could immediately tell this was a more focused and determined Leafs team than the one that lost to the Isles at the end of February.
And that focus and drive paid off for Toronto just 2:17 into the second period, when defenceman Calle Rosen - playing in his first NHL game of the season and just the fifth of his career - scored his first career NHL goal:
Video: TOR@NYI: Rosen snaps home wrister for first NHL goal
Rosen has enjoyed a stellar season with the American League's Toronto Marlies prior to being recalled to the NHL roster. Netting his first goal - by firing a shot from inside the Islanders' blueline and having it deflect off a defender's stick and knuckleball past Lehner - certainly can only help Rosen's confidence as he tries to earn a full-time NHL job and a place on the ice for the Leafs as the playoffs approach. That was also the lone goal of the second frame, giving Toronto a 1-0 advantage as the third period began.
LEAFS PRODUCE SECOND GOAL - AND EVENTUAL GAME-WINNER - ON TAVARES' FIRST GOAL AGAINST FORMER TEAM EARLY IN THIRD
The Leafs outshot the Islanders in every period (and 38-29 overall), and Toronto doubled its lead to 2-0 only 3:50 into the third period, when John Tavares netted his team-leading 46th goal of the season - and his first-ever goal against his former team:
Video: TOR@NYI: Tavares' first goal against the Islanders
Tavares benefitted greatly from the playmaking skills of linemate and winger Mitch Marner on the goal: Marner grabbed the puck just inside the Isles' blueline, skated with it out toward the centre of the ice, then dropped it back to Tavares, who was skating in the other direction and quickly beat Lehner to make it a two-goal advantage for the visiting team.
ISLES GET ONE BACK WITH POWER PLAY MARKER LATE IN THIRD, BUT ANDERSEN IS DIALLED-IN, SECURES WIN FOR LEAFS TO HALT TWO-GAME LOSING SKID
The Islanders are heading to the playoffs for the first time in the past three years, and they're a team that normally plays to the final buzzer. That much was true in Monday's tilt against Toronto, as the Isles scored a power play goal (from forward Jordan Eberle) with 5:05 left in regulation time to cut the Leafs' lead to only a single goal.
However, Andersen - playing one of his best games in recent weeks - turned aside 28 of 29 shots and frustrated the Isles until the final play of the night.
Video: TOR@NYI: Andersen denies Barzal's late bid
In any case, this was a win for the Leafs that had a number of positives for the weeks ahead - Rosen's solid performance (one goal in 9:37 of ice time, all of it at even-strength); Andersen's success in keeping the puck out of the net; Tavares' game-winner against his former club - and we'll see how the Leafs carry it over into the final three regular season games.