The Toronto Maple Leafs got a measure of revenge over the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum Monday night and subsequently punched their ticket to the NHL playoffs.
John Tavares scored a goal against his former team, but the bigger story was that the club made it into the playoffs for the third straight season.
The Maple Leafs will face off against the Boston Bruins in the first round. They currently trail their opponents by four points, which means home ice could still be decided as the season winds down.
This is the 16th time the Maple Leafs and Bruins have met in the post-season since the early 1930s.
“I think it’s great,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re excited to have the opportunity, we’re excited to be in the playoffs. Obviously on our division side it’s real good teams and that’s what it’s supposed to be like. You’re supposed to play a really good team. I got two kids that live in Boston, it’ll be perfect.”
On most other nights, the story on Long Island would’ve been one of reprisal for Tavares and the Maple Leafs. Last time they faced off at Nassau, the home crowd was bristling with acrimony and Toronto didn’t exactly support their new hire as they paved the way to a pitiless 6-1 loss. But this time, the 6ix got it done and came with a mission in mind.
“Give them some credit; they had a lot of desperation in their game,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We needed more in ours. We had some at the end. I thought the first was pretty even. I thought the second we were fine until they got the goal, and they got some momentum there.”
New York remains three points behind the Capitals for first in the Metropolitan Division and two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For Tavares, the night was his. He scored on a drop pass from Mitch Marner, notching his 46th of the season. It was also his 87th point. In both categories, he’s reached career highs.
“When you’ve been through it once, there is a little bit more of a comfort level because you have a better idea to know what to expect,” Tavares said. “I just tried to focus on playing. Everything else going around me, it’s out of my control. It’s not what I try to worry about. I just go out there and play my game.”
Up next, the Maple Leafs play the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning at home before closing out the season in Montreal on Saturday.
(Photo credit: NHL)