Casey Cizikas scored twice and the New York Islanders beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 Thursday night in former captain John Tavares’ first time back as a visiting player.
Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and Valtteri Filppula also scored for the Islanders, who had lost three of their last four. Jordan Eberle and Cal Clutterbuck each had two assists, and Robin Lehner stopped 34 shots to help New York move two points ahead of Washington atop the Metropolitan Division one night before hosting the Capitals. The Islanders’ 81 points are one more than they had all of last season.
Islanders fans, vocal on social media about their lingering displeasure with Taveras’ departure after he repeatedly said he wanted to stay, booed loudly when Tavares and the Maple Leafs hit the ice for pregame warmups, and when they came back out for the start of each period.
They also serenaded him with choruses of “We Don’t Need You!” and other derisive chants throughout the game, including around a video tribute midway through the first period. The face of the franchise for nine years after he was selected No. 1 overall by New York in 2009, Tavares insisted he agonized over his decision to leave before announcing it on July 1, the first day of free agency.
Zach Hyman scored for the Maple Leafs, who had won three straight. Garret Sparks finished with 31 saves.
Cizikas got his second of the night for his 19th of the season and seventh in the last eight games, tipping the puck past Sparks 33 seconds into the third to push the Islanders’ lead to 5-1.
Nelson got a pass from Jordan Eberle and beat Sparks from the right side for his 20th at 8:41 for New York’s sixth straight goal after trailing 1-0 in the first.
Lee gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead 4:49 into the second with his team-leading 22nd goal. Brock Nelson brought the puck up the right side on a 2-on-1 rush, sent a pass back to the left side as he crossed the end line, and Lee put it past Sparks for his fourth goal in six games.
Hyman appeared to tie it with his second of the night at 7:12 off a pass from Mitch Marner. However the goal was overturned after the Islanders challenged for offside on the play, drawing a rousing ovation from the raucous home crowd.
Cizikas extended the Islanders’ lead to 3-1 with a short-handed goal as he stole the puck from Tyler Ennis along the side boards, skated up the right side, cut across the front of the goal and beat Sparks through the five-hole with 6:20 left in the middle period.
Filppula made it a three-goal lead as he put in a loose puck in front for his 13th with exactly a minute left in the second.
Hyman put the Maple Leafs ahead 1-0, poking a loose puck in front off a deflection by Marner past Lehner for his 14th with 6:27 left in the first. Hyman has four goals and five points in his last six games.
Beauvillier tied it less than 3 minutes later, firing a return pass from Josh Bailey on a 3-on-1 rush for his 15th.
NOTES: Tavares spoke fondly about playing again at the Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders played during his firsts six seasons. They played all their home games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and are splitting games between the two arenas this season. “The playoff series we had here were tremendous,” Tavares said before the game. “Playing your first game and scoring your first goal and just what that was like. Just the atmosphere that was created here and a lot of those moments.” … Maple Leafs F Patrick Marleau played in his 1,639 regular season game, tying Dave Andreychuk for seventh place on the NHL’s career list. … The Islanders have won both meetings with the Maple Leafs this season, also winning 4-0 at Toronto on Dec. 29. The teams conclude the season series back here on April 1 in New York’s home finale. … Cizikas has four career multigoal games, including three this season. He has also more than doubled his previous career high of nine goals.
Maple Leafs; Host Buffalo on Saturday night.
Islanders: Host Washington on Friday night.