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Islanders retaliate by beating Maple Leafs

Richard Park of the Islanders is more subdued

Richard Park of the Islanders is more subdued in his reaction than the fans after he scored a short-handed goal against the Maple Leafs in the first period. The Islanders won, 3-1. (March 14, 2010) Credit: Photo by David Pokress

The Islanders should have had no trouble sleeping soundly on their six-hour postgame flight to Vancouver after a blue-collar 4-1 win over Toronto last night at Nassau Coliseum.

Led by Blake Comeau's three-assist performance and the team's improved penalty-killing, the Isles earned their first back-to-back wins since January.

The Islanders faced Dion Phaneuf for the first time since his vicious open-ice hit against Kyle Okposo in the preseason, when Phaneuf played for Calgary. Okposo was carted off the ice on a stretcher with a concussion.

Despite the time that has passed, plenty of people haven't forgotten that frightening moment. Islanders fans didn't. They booed Phaneuf every time he touched the puck.

Neither did Matt Martin, who delivered a message early in the first period with a big hit against Phaneuf along the boards that incurred a boarding call against the 20-year-old call-up. Martin played in that preseason game, too, and saw his teammate lie motionless on the ice for several minutes as a result.

"You never forget something like that," Martin said. "We all kind of thought that was a dirty hit, and tonight I think we did a good job of keeping him quiet. You've got to be there for your teammates. We're a family."

Okposo said he'll never forget the incident but added that he tried to push it to the back burner during the game. "The guys really stuck up for me by finishing their checks against him tonight," he said. "It was nice to see."

The Islanders' first few shifts were not as pretty, when they gave up a couple of breakaways and paid accordingly.

Sprung by a sharp lead pass from Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin scored on a breakaway 57 seconds into the game to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead, but the Islanders' fourth-line grinders went to work later in the period to tie the game.

Richard Park and Trevor Gillies collected assists after Tim Jackman jammed one past Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 2:51.

The Islanders scored their second shorthanded goal in two games when Park tallied at 8:55, courtesy of a keen forechecking effort and feed from Comeau. "The execution was there," coach Scott Gordon said of his rapidly improving penalty kill, which is 11-for-11 the past two games.

Since making adjustments after the March 4 game against Atlanta - primarily to focus on clogging the middle of the ice and forcing opponents to the periphery - the Islanders have seen the unit change from an Achilles' heel to a major strength.

"It has improved a lot," Okposo said. "Not just statistically speaking, but the number of chances other teams are getting and where those chances are coming from."

Comeau picked up another assist with a deft dish on Frans Nielsen's second-period goal and his third of the night on Matt Moulson's 25th goal of the season, a power-play tally at 17:40 of the third.

"Blake has been playing really well. He's picked up his game and is playing with confidence," Gordon said. "You see flashes of things to get excited about with him."

After last night, the same might be said about the rest of the team, too.


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