The chants of “We don’t need you” rang through NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum again, now a staple when John Tavares returns to his former home with his new team, the Maple Leafs.
It was the case Wednesday night when the Islanders, outplayed for lengthy stretches through the first two periods, were the better team when it mattered in the third period. They extended their point streak to 12-0-1 with a 5-4 win to end a season-long, four-game homestand as they matched their season high for goals.
“Everyone gets hyped up,” said left wing Anthony Beauvillier, who scored two goals. “We all know the story, obviously. It’s fun games to play and it was a playoff atmosphere tonight.”
Derick Brassard, switched back to Brock Nelson’s right wing along with Beauvillier in the second period, had a goal and two assists. Mathew Barzal had a goal and an assist — leading to “Barzy’s better chants” — and Semyon Varlamov made 23 saves for the Islanders (13-3-1).
Frederik Andersen stopped 25 shots for the Maple Leafs (9-7-4), who scored twice in the last 1:47 to close the gap. Casey Cizikas’ empty-net goal with 2:28 left made it 5-2, and it turned out to be the game-winner.
“I had no idea until Cal [Clutterbuck] said it to me after,” said Cizikas, a stalwart on the 2-for-2 penalty kill. “That’s a great game for people to watch. The crowd really got into it.”
There were loud boos when Tavares stepped on the ice for pregame warmups. There was sustained booing when he was introduced as a starter and whenever he lined up to take a faceoff. Or touched the puck. Or when his primary assist on Kasperi Kapanen’s second-period goal — his 100th point with the Maple Leafs — was announced. And when he scored the game’s last goal at 19:22 with Andersen pulled for an extra skater.
But there were no jerseys thrown at him or plastic snakes thrown on the ice, as was the case the first time he came to the Coliseum as a visitor in a 6-1 Islanders’ win on Feb. 28. The Islanders beat the Maple Leafs in two of three games last season, though Tavares’ winner in a 2-1 victory on April 1 clinched a playoff berth for Toronto.
“I think the whole situation last year was probably blown up and it’s in the past,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “I think there’s always something to prove. I think our guys accept that challenge. There’s a reason we have the record we do. There is a pride factor all the time.”
The Islanders’ 2-for-3 power play helped them gain this victory as Barzal stickhandled through the Maple Leafs’ defense and fed Brassard for a one-timer on the man advantage to make it 4-2 at 8:07 of the third period for his sixth of the season.
“He beat all four guys,” Brassard said of Barzal. “He’s obviously our best player. It’s great to see him at such a young age trying to make a difference in big games like that.”
Brassard forced a turnover in the Maple Leafs’ zone and fed Beauvillier at the right post for a 3-2 Isles lead at 16:43 of the second period. Beauvillier’s power-play wrist shot at 19:21 of the first period had made it 2-0 after Barzal’s one-timer off Jordan Eberle’s feed opened the scoring at 14:23.
The Maple Leafs dominated a fast-paced second period — there were no stoppages between 2:58 and 10:40 — and held a 12-1 shot advantage in the period at 14:43.
Kapanen made it 2-1 just 43 seconds in, tipping in defenseman Travis Dermott’s shot from the left point which had already deflected off Tavares’ skate. William Nylander tied it at 2 with his eighth at 11:22.