UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders have found their stride again, even though their latest wins have been one-goal decisions against teams they are unlikely to face in the playoffs.
Still, they are winning by playing what coach Jack Capuano calls “Islanders Hockey.” He even drew comparisons to Long Island’s dynasty teams when the club won the Stanley Cup four straight times more than 30 years ago.
Anders Lee scored two goals, including the tiebreaker in the second period, and Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves for his career-best 30th win as the Islanders beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Feb. 12.
“Similar to what they had here in the ’80s,” Capuano said when asked to describe Islanders Hockey. “We’ve got some skill, we’ve got some grit. Obviously, they had good goaltending here.
“Each team has got a different identity, each team has got a certain way they need to play. I think our guys realize how we are successful.”
Lee scored in each of the first two periods, and Casey Cizikas added a goal for the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders, who have won three straight and four of five — all decided by one goal.
New York, which lost three straight before this winning run, is 22-4-1 in one-goal games.
“These are the ways you win hockey games this time of year and in the playoffs,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. “It’s good to see us handle these games a lot better than we did last year.”
Richard Panik and Trevor Smith had goals in the second period as Toronto erased a 2-0 deficit. Jonathan Bernier stopped 38 shots, but dropped his eighth straight decision. The Maple Leafs have lost 13 of 14 (1-12-1) overall and 12 straight (0-11-1) on the road.
“It’s bewildering to me when we have these poor starts,” interim coach Peter Horachek said. “Only when we get our dander up do we seem to respond. We showed character coming back, but we shouldn’t need a bad start to get it going.”
Lee restored the Islanders’ lead with 7:58 left in the second with his second of the night and 18th of the season.
The Maple Leafs came out with a lot more jump and effort in the second period and scored twice early to tie the game, outshooting New York 10-1 in the first half of the frame.
“We let up, I guess. We didn’t mean to,” Lee said. “They came out flying. It shows a little bit of resiliency on our part. We found a way to win even though we let them back in.”
Panik cut the Toronto deficit in half just 1:32 in when Korbinian Holzer’s hard shot sailed over the net and off the back boards. The carom came to Panik at the left post, and he calmly scored his ninth goal.
Panik was originally credited with his second of the night when the Maple Leafs got even at 4:09, but settled for an assist. Panik, again at the left post, sent the puck into the crease, where it was batted in by Smith for his second of the season and first in 13 games.
“It was another bad start for us. Not good. It’s unacceptable,” forward Phil Kessel said. “We had our chances. We didn’t do enough with them.”
Capuano used his timeout with his club being outshot 6-0 in the period.
The Islanders got off to the good start they have been looking for recently in matchups against teams down in the standings — grabbing a 2-0 lead 4:03 in.
Lee got it started. He took the puck away from defenseman Cody Franson in the offensive zone, came in alone on Bernier and jammed the puck in at 1:11.
Another breakdown produced Cizikas’ sixth goal. Colin McDonald, who scored in each of the previous two games since being brought up from the AHL, raced down left wing and drove to the net. Bernier stopped his shot, but Cizikas swooped in to knock in the rebound.
The Islanders had an 18-8 edge in shots in the first period.
“You’ve got to learn to win the close ones because they are all going to be close down the stretch,” Lee said. “One-goal leads and one-goal games are tight, but they’re also ones we have to hang on to.”
(IRA PODELL, AP Hockey Writer)