TORONTO — For the better part of the past six weeks, it has been pretty easy for the Islanders to pinpoint what they have done wrong. Poor defensive sequences, bad shift changes, careless puck movement, soft goals, you name it.
The frustrating part this time was that they could not name it.
They did just about everything they had wanted to do on the road against the hot Maple Leafs, and it still earned them only a single point. They will take it, with their 4-3 shootout loss at Air Canada Centre, but they wanted and needed one more. Plus, they felt they deserved it.
There was some resilience, bouncing back to take the lead after having given up a two-goal advantage, and there was even some luck. You could make the case that this was going to be their night when Jordan Eberle’s shot caromed around in front, hit off a Maple Leaf and went in for a 3-2 lead in the third period. But there was always a “but.”
Several Islanders shots trickled along the goal line, but not in. Auston Matthews’ tip with 3:29 left in regulation was going wide, but it hit off Nick Leddy and went in to tie the score. Jaroslav Halak made some big saves in the three-on-three overtime, but Tyler Bozak beat him in the shootout. John Tavares had a chance to extend the shootout but Frederik Andersen made the stop, as he had on the other two Islanders attempts.
“That’s a good team over there, right? It’s a tough building to play in. They’re rolling,” Doug Weight said. “But we were the better team tonight . . . That’s going to happen every once in a while. You’re not going to win every game when you outplay a team. But we’ve got to find a way to get two there. We deserved to win.”
They even outshot the Leafs 35-31, allowing only 27 in regulation, correcting a recent problem of having allowed shot deluges. But it just was not enough.
The Islanders are tied with Columbus in points for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, but the Blue Jackets have a game in hand.
“We played well. It was nice to see our team back to the way we need to play,” Eberle said. “But I think with how tight the standings are and the situation we’re in, it’s tough to give up that extra [one].”
Eberle’s linemate, Mathew Barzal, had a standout game with two assists, giving him a team-leading 48, and his first goal in 17 games. “He controlled the game,” Weight said.
Ryan Pulock set the tone by ripping a shot past Andersen at 8:39 of the first period, with the puck going into and out of the net so quickly that the goalie appeared not to know it had gone in.
Despite the fact that the Maple Leafs kept Tavares off the scoresheet and regardless of the goals by Mitch Marner, at 17:39 of the first, and Morgan Rielly, at 1:28 of the third, it appeared to be the Islanders’ night when Eberle’s ricochet shot went in to break a 2-2 tie.
“It’s nice to get a bounce, but you look at how much we created before that and I think it was a bounce we deserved, a little bit,” Eberle said. “They found a way to get a bounce, too.”
It is open to debate which team actually was better. But only one side left with a win. As Eberle said, “We got a point. Obviously, we needed the two, but I guess you’ve got to be somewhat happy with one.”