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Islanders rally to beat Maple Leafs 7-4

by Neil Acharya

TORONTO -- The New York Islanders expect to get offense from their first line, led by emerging star John Tavares. But it was their second and third lines that made the difference Thursday as New York rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-4 at Air Canada Centre.

Tavares had two assists and Matt Moulson, his left wing, scored twice. However, the Islanders also got two goals and an assist from Michael Grabner, a goal and two assists from newcomer Brad Boyes and the eventual game-winner from Keith Aucoin, who was claimed on waivers from the Leafs last week.

After a dreadful first period in which they were outscored 3-1 and outplayed badly, the Islanders (2-1-0) ran off five unanswered goals to blow the game open.

"For me it's about playing the way we have to play, and we didn't do that in the first period," coach Jack Capuano said. "We turned pucks over and we didn't have any discipline in our decision making. We talked to this group early on and said that they have to take some ownership in this room as players. Most of them have been here for a couple of years, and the second and third periods exemplified the way we need to play."

In contrast, one night after the Leafs looked terrific in a 5-2 win at Pittsburgh, they fell apart.

"Obviously it was the worst game we played," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We saw one team last night, and a totally different team tonight. We were out of sync, we were brain-dead, whatever word you want to describe [it]."

The turning point came midway through the second period when the Islanders took advantage of a penalty to Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski, who was called for using his hand to play the puck off a faceoff.

With the Leafs pressing while shorthanded, Tavares turned the puck out of his own zone and led a 4-on-2 rush that ended with Mark Streit beating Ben Scrivens from the slot at 11:44 to make it 3-2.

"I think it got us going," said Boyes, who also assisted on Streit's goal. "You could look at that goal as being the turning point, or the momentum shift, they score on that and it could be a different game."

Capuano agreed that Streit's goal changed the momentum.

"Obviously there is a little bit of a swing there," he said. "It gives a bit of life as we start to move into the later part of that game."

Boyes then scored his first goal as an Islander at 13:10 when he went to the front of the net and tipped home Frans Nielsen's pass from the left corner to tie the game.

"I was just trying to get body position, I figured he was throwing it across and was able to get enough on it," Boyes said.

The score remained tied heading to the third period when Grabner whipped a feed from Boyes past Scrivens at 3:23 giving the Islanders their first lead of the game at 4-3. Aucoin then ended Scrivens' night when he scored from inside the right circle at 4:35, putting the visitors up by two goals.

"After a certain period in the game, it seemed like we stopped," Carlyle said.

The Islanders have nine newcomers, including four players who were added last week, and are still getting to know each other. Thursday's victory should help -- especially with a visit to Boston on Friday night.

"It’s huge," Aucoin said. "Especially with the new group of guys we have here, getting to know each other. To come back from a 3-1 deficit like we did took a group effort tonight. It was good to see, and great to get this road trip off to a good start."

After the first period it seemed that the Isles' top line of Moulson, Tavares and Kyle Okposo was the only one that came to play. That changed in the second half of the game.

"After the first, you go back in and look at the chances and you see [Tavares'] line getting most of them," Capuano said. "As the game went on, and we started to play the style we want to play, other lines started creating... and grind[ing] teams down and we are fortunate they chipped in for us and helped us out."

James Reimer, who relieved Scrivens, was victimized at 11:20 when Moulson scored to make it 6-3. Just prior to the scoring play, Tavares seemed momentarily hobbled when he was driven into the boards from behind by Dion Phaneuf, but he was not injured on the play and didn't miss a shift.

Matt Frattin, who was called up earlier in the day to replace injured Joffrey Lupul, netted a goal with 2:13 remaining gave the Air Canada Centre crowd a brief flicker of life, but after Aucoin prevented a goal a few seconds later by sweeping the puck off the goal line, Grabner worked the puck down the ice against three Leafs before hitting the empty net for a shorthanded goal with 1:10 left.

The seven goals were the most for the Islanders since they won 7-6 in Buffalo on Feb. 13, 2011 -- and were the most they've ever scored in a road opener.

The Leafs (2-2-0) came out flying and grabbed the lead when Gunnarson's long shot went through a screen and past Evgeni Nabokov at 2:12. Gunnarsson along with Frattin both finished with a team-high three points.

Moulson, who's reached the 30-goal mark in each of the last three seasons, got his first of 2012-13 at 8:39 when Scrivens couldn't control a rebound, allowing the Toronto-area native to get the Islanders on the board.

Nazem Kadri put Toronto back in front just over a minute later, swatting home a loose puck after John-Michael Liles' shot hit the end boards and caromed back in front. It was his third goal in four games.

The Maple Leafs struck again when Grabovski used defenseman Travis Hamonic as a screen and zipped a 30-foot wrister past Nabokov at 12:48 to make it 3-1. Toronto finished the period with a 16-9 advantage in shots.

Nabokov and the Islanders steadied after that; the 37-year-old goaltender fought the puck through the first 20 minutes but elevated his play in the final two periods and finished with 39 saves, including several tough stops near the end of the game.

Scrivens stopped 20 of 25 shots before being pulled, It was the first time this season the Maple Leafs have allowed more than two goals in a game.

The loss left Carlyle shaking his head as he prepared for a trip to New York to play the Rangers on Saturday night.

"I don’t have an explanation for you," he said, "and my message is that we accept responsibility for the way we played tonight -- but we will be judged on how we perform Saturday."

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