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Kessel's pair leads Maple Leafs past Islanders

by Joe Yerdon

TORONTO - Phil Kessel made the most of his chances Tuesday night.

Kessel scored twice to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-2 victory against the New York Islanders at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night. His power-play goal midway through the second period made it 2-0, and he wrapped up the scoring by beating Kevin Poulin on a 2-on-1 rush with 2:43 left in regulation.

"He's obviously a highly-talented player and doesn't need many chances to score goals," linemate James van Riemsdyk said. "He had two pretty sweet releases out there and [they went] in the back of the net."

The second goal was Kessel's 400th career point.

"I forgot until they told me about it," Kessel said. "It's nice,"

Jonathan Bernier made 35 saves for Toronto, which also got goals by Trevor Smith, Mason Raymond and David Clarkson. It was the first as a Maple Leaf for Clarkson, who signed a seven-year contract with his hometown team during the summer.

"It does feel good to, I guess, get some people off my back a little bit, but it's all part of the game," Clarkson said. "I think when you're getting chances, it's eventually going to come."

Casey Cizikas and Frans Nielsen scored for the Islanders, who've dropped six of their past eight games and five in a row on the road.

"I don't think we played our best," Islanders captain John Tavares. "I don't think we were even close to it. It seemed like we just weren't executing, a little timid on plays and coming out of our end, and trying to generate our forecheck we were just a little hesitant, a little slow.

Smith, a recent call-up from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, finished off a pass from Joffrey Lupul 22 seconds into the game to give the Maple Leafs a lead they never relinquished.

"When people are doing well at the American Hockey League level, the step to the NHL is not as large as it was at the beginning of the year for a player," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "Trevor's earned that opportunity and given us some safe minutes and given us some offense."

Kessel his first of the night at 11:19 of the second period on the power play to give the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead. Kessel had room to maneuver around the faceoff circle as both van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul got position around the net. With the distractions in place and the defense committed to them, Kessel had time and space to beat Poulin.

"He's a hell of a player," Bernier said. "When he gets that speed going, he's tough to stop."

The Islanders cut the lead in half with 11.5 seconds to play in the second when Cizikas blocked Cody Franson's shot at the left point, raced in on a breakaway and beat Bernier through the five-hole. It was the third of the season for Cizikas, who has a goal in each of the Islanders' past three games.

Raymond made it 3-1 with his eighth of the season by banging in the rebound of Jay McClement's shot at 3:39 of the third period. McClement broke in on Poulin trying to stuff the puck home. Poulin made the save but left the rebound for Raymond to finish off.

Clarkson beat Poulin with a wrister at 12:52 for his first goal in 11 games with Toronto.

"That was a hell of a shot," van Riemsdyk said. "He's been contributing in a lot of different ways for us out there and it was nice to see him get rewarded with a goal. I'm sure he's pretty happy about that, too."

Nielsen scored his 10th of the season with 4:46 to play to cut the margin to 4-2, but Kessel came down 2-on-1 with James van Riemsdyk and beat Poulin, who stopped 19 shots.

The Islanders are off until they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

"We have a lot to prove still and we're still a growing team and we need to find our game on a consistent level," Tavares said. "[We need to] be better in a lot the gritty areas, things that top teams do really well, and we don't do that enough."

The win improved the Maple Leafs' home record to 8-2-0. They're off until Thursday night when they host the Nashville Predators.

"One of the things we believe is we have to have success in our building. It's imperative," Carlyle said. "It's as simple as that. If you're going to be a hockey club that's going to qualify and give yourself a chance, any of those things, you have to have a home record that you can be proud of."

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