By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 27) – Quick: Remember what you were doing 19 nights ago? Didn’t think you would. Turns out, neither did your Toronto Maple Leafs, who played shinny (that’s two n’s, not two t’s, though each could apply) against the New York Islanders.
At this stage of the season, however, a point on the road is valuable and the Leafs can take solace in an 11-2-2 record over the past 15 games. What Leafs will not stomach well is the defensive nightmare that evolved at Nassau Coliseum Thursday evening – playing Curly, Larry and Moe with the puck on a first-period powerplay that resulted in consecutive shorthanded goals on the same shift; failing to hold a pair of one-goal leads in final half of the third period, and throwing away the puck in absolute prime scoring territory for the overtime winning slapshot by 37-year-old Lubomir Visnovsky. Such blatant miscues were hardly in evidence while Leafs were cruising into the Olympic break as the third-hottest team in the National Hockey League and will not be welcomed by coach Randy Carlyle – even after a three-week hiatus.
ISLANDERS CELEBRATE OVERTIME WIN AGAINST LEAFS ON THURSDAY. SPORTSNET IMAGE
Given the pre-Olympic effort, however, Leafs earned a mulligan for the flop on Long Island. Much will be forgotten if the club rebounds against the Canadiens on Saturday night in Montreal – the first of many big games in the standings between now and the end of the regular season.
Though I’m not Carlyle’s No. 1 ally, I give him a lot of credit for staying with Jake Gardiner after a disastrous opening period. I’m sure that every strand of Carlyle’s DNA wanted to bench the young blue-liner upon a blatant error that led to the first Islanders short-handed goal. And, having dressed seven defenseman, Carlyle could have sat Gardiner. Instead, No. 51 was back on the ice for his next shift and he responded by playing with more poise in the second and third periods. Again, perhaps a mulligan for Gardiner, who was terrific in games leading up to Sochi. Don’t be surprised if he shines at the Bell Centre on Saturday.
Bad habits are difficult to break.
Good habits should be as well, though Leafs proved otherwise in Nassau County. I’m not expecting a replay in Montreal.
LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY’S ONE-TIMER FROM THE SLOT ELUDES LEAF GOALIE JONATHAN BERNIER FOR OVERTIME-WINNING TALLY AT NASSAU COLISEUM. SPORTSNET IMAGES
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