Islanders Creep Back Towards .500, Pound Hapless Maple Leafs
TORONTO (AP) — The New York Islanders appear destined to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, but Matt Moulson is providing a silver lining with a career season.
Moulson scored a power-play goal with just over six minutes remaining, and the Islanders beat Toronto 5-2 on Tuesday night, handing the Maple Leafs their eighth straight home loss.
The 28-year-old left wing scored twice against his hometown team, setting career highs with 32 goals and 61 points in 73 games.
“I still get goose bumps when I go out on the ice here,” Moulson said. “The Leafs were my team from a young age, and my wife was in the crowd tonight. It was the first time she’s seen me play (at Air Canada Centre).
“Being from Toronto, it doesn’t get much better than (scoring two goals and winning).”
Moulson has three consecutive 30-goal seasons, not bad for a guy drafted No. 263 in 2003. Moulson had played a total of 29 NHL games for the Los Angeles Kings from 2007-09 before landing on Long Island as a free agent before the 2009-10 season.
“I was given a chance by the Islanders,” said Moulson, who was rewarded last summer with a three-year, $9.4-million contract that expires after the 2013-14 season.
“I was very fortunate with the situation when I arrived at my first Islanders training camp. I’d already known (John) Tavares for a long time, so it was good. I’ve been very fortunate with how it’s worked out.”
It’s been a good deal for the Islanders, too. Their toothless offense, ranked 29th in the NHL, would be even worse without the 1-2 punch of Tavares and Moulson. The duo had combined to score 63 of the team’s 174 goals — nearly 40 percent of New York’s total.
“He’s been overlooked many times in his career, at every level,” Tavares said of Moulson. “But he stuck with it and kept working. He’s a great story and a huge part of our organization. And personally, he’s been a huge part of my career.
“Three straight 30-goal seasons isn’t easy to do. You have to pay a price, and he’s willing to do that. We’re lucky to have him.”
PA Parenteau’s breakaway goal less than two minutes after Moulson’s first of the night stretched New York’s lead and caused a cascade of boos from disgruntled Maple Leafs fans. Moulson made it 5-2 with an empty-net goal.
It was another poor performance for the Maple Leafs, who were beaten 8-0 at Boston on Monday in their worst loss of a disappointing season. Toronto has recorded only 27 total shots in the back-to-back losses, including 14 against New York.
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle conducted a lengthy postgame meeting with his players after twice watching them blow leads to the Islanders. Rather than deliver a message to the group, he decided to go around the room and ask questions.
“I wanted to hear how they felt about what was going on,” Carlyle said. “They were disappointed in the way they played.”
Carlyle didn’t think it was his place to disclose more details, and the players refused to elaborate, as well.
“The message is for us,” forward Matthew Lombardi said. “We’ve got to believe in ourselves here and stay positive and move forward.”
In the final moments, some chanted “Fi-re Burk-ie!” — directed toward general manager Brian Burke — although it was nowhere near as audible as the “Fi-re Wil-son!” chants that came before former coach Ron Wilson was let go this month.
“This is one of the most storied franchises in the sport,” Carlyle said. “We can’t fault our fans for (their displeasure) in the way we played. They’re allowed to do that and that’s their right.”
Josh Bailey and David Ullstrom also scored for the Islanders (30-32-11). Tavares had three assists, and Parenteau added two.
Phil Kessel and Matthew Lombardi had goals for Toronto (32-34-8), 4-15-2 since Feb. 7.
Toronto looked completely out of gas at the end of a punishing stretch in which the Maple Leafs played seven games in 11 nights. They managed just nine shots through 40 minutes — Toronto had seven in the first two periods of the loss in Boston — but still went to the third period with a chance to win.
However, New York dominated the final 20 minutes and took advantage of a delay of game penalty to Matt Frattin. Moulson planted himself at the top of the crease and scored his 31st of the season at 13:56.
Parenteau then raced out of his zone to get to a loose puck and squeezed a shot past goalie James Reimer to make it 4-2.
With both teams out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, there was little on the line. There were clusters of empty seats in the lower bowl, and the building was even quieter than usual.
Kessel opened the scoring at 10:27 of the first period with a wrist shot that went in and out so quickly, the goal had to be confirmed by video review. Kessel tied his career best with his 36th goal of the season.
The Islanders tied it less than five minutes later when Tavares made a nice move to feed Bailey on the rush. He lifted the puck over Reimer.
Lombardi put Toronto back ahead 2-1 early in the second period, taking the puck out from behind the net and beating Evgeni Nabokov with a backhander at 4:12. But Mike Komisarek’s turnover resulted in Ullstrom finishing off a nice pass from Michael Grabner to make it 2-2 after 40 minutes.
NOTES: Toronto hasn’t won at home since Feb. 6 against Edmonton. … Tyler Bozak earned his 100th NHL point with an assist on Kessel’s goal … Lombardi played in his 500th NHL game. … The announced attendance was 19,351.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)