With the score tied late in the third period, Auston Matthews saw an opening and got himself in position. And when he got the puck from William Nylander, he was able to knock in the winning goal.
Matthews deflected Nylander’s pass in front with just under four minutes remaining to lift the playoff-bound Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders on Friday night.
“Very good forecheck by (Zach) Hyman to free the puck up and I was able to sneak in there backdoor,” Matthews said. “It was good for (Nylander) to see that play and make it, so great for both those guys to create space, get the puck and I just tapped it.”
Matthews had a goal and an assist in the Maple Leafs 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders1:43
It was Matthews’ 31st goal of the season and broke the fourth tie of the game.
“A good two points for us,” he said. “Probably not a fun game for coaches but more a fun game for the players.”
Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri each had a goal and an assist, and Nikita Zaitsev and James van Riemsdyk also scored for Toronto. Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots to help the Maple Leafs win for the eighth time in 10 games and extend a franchise record with their 47th win.
Toronto, which clinched a post-season berth when Florida lost in overtime at Ottawa on Thursday night, is all but locked into third place in the Atlantic Division.
“It’s nice that we’ve clinched and now we just want to get ready and focused for the playoffs,” Nylander said.
Anthony Beauvillier had a goal and an assist, and Johnny Boychuk, Brock Nelson and John Tavares also scored for the Islanders, who lost for the 15th time in 18 games (3-11-4). Jordan Eberle had two assists and Christopher Gibson finished with 27 saves.
“It was a good hockey game,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said. “It was exciting and really, for a 5-4 game it was pretty well-played. … Yeah, a little bit of puck luck would be nice. It was a heck of a game. Guys battled but just fell short.”
Van Riemsdyk gave the Maple Leafs their first lead of the game — at 4-3 — as he put in the rebound for his 36th at 2:01 of the third.
Tavares tied it for the fourth time as he beat Andersen from the right doorstep for his 34th at 6:28. Tavares now has 80 points, reaching that number for the first time since he had 86 in 2014-15.
“We didn’t want the puck in our net as much as it was tonight,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s the way it went and we just had to find a way to keep grinding.”
Trailing 2-1 after one period, the Maple Leafs tied the score at 7:52 of the second as Zaitsev’s pass deflected off Islanders forward Mathew Barzal’s stick and past Gibson for the defenseman’s fifth.
Nelson put New York back in front on an odd-man rush as he got a pass across the slot from Andrew Ladd and beat Andersen from the right faceoff dot for his 19th with 9:15 left.
Marner then tied it again as he deflected Jake Gardiner’s shot in front for his 22nd with 2:42 to go in the second.
Beauvillier got the Islanders on the scoreboard with just under eight minutes remaining in the first. Eberle got the puck near the left side of the goal, skated to the corner and sent a pass in front to Beauvillier, who put it past Andersen for his 18th. The goal withstood a Maple Leafs challenge for goalie interference.
Toronto tied it with 3:38 left, just 7 seconds after Anders Lee was whistled for slashing, as Kadri tipped the puck out of the air in front off a pass from Marner for his 31st.
Boychuk put the Islanders back in front on a power play with 1:26 to go in the opening period as he got a pass from Beauvillier near the blue line and sent a one-timer through traffic past Andersen for his sixth.
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