Mathew Barzal lifts Islanders over Maple Leafs in overtime


The Islanders have spent the season’s first 40 games with minimal changes to their forward lines, choosing to stick with a plan that’s been in place since training camp.

After Casey Cizikas went down on a week-to-week basis with a lower-body injury Tuesday, coach Lane Lambert decided Game 41 was the right time for a reboot.

“I don’t think we’ve played very well lately,” Lambert said Thursday morning. “So yeah, we could’ve just moved one person with Cizikas being out. But we’ve moved a bunch of people. We gotta be better.”

The line changes had the intended effect, helping the Islanders to a 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs on Mathew Barzal’s game-winner in overtime.

After a lackluster few weeks, that is the sort of victory they’ll hope can reignite some momentum.

Ilya Sorokin #30 of the New York Islanders is hugged by his teammates after the New York Islanders defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs. Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

For the first time since the Islanders traded for Bo Horvat last January, he and Barzal were on different lines in a game where both were healthy.

Anders Lee stayed with Horvat, but with Oliver Wahlstrom on the right side in his first game since Dec. 27.

Mathew Barzal netted the overtime winner for the Islanders. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Barzal centered Simon Holmstrom and Kyle Palmieri, playing his first game down the middle since Feb. 18, 2023, and first with Palmieri since Oct. 22, 2022.

Brock Nelson played on the de facto third line with Pierre Engvall and Hudson Fasching.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau centered Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck on the fourth line.

And the Islanders — a team that ranks toward the bottom of the league in puck possession and offensive zone time — responded by getting on the cycle and holding the puck for long periods of time against good opposition.

Barzal shifted lines in this game. Getty Images

It looked as though Auston Matthews had single-handedly ended any momentum that came from a good first period when he scored a pair of goals in the first three minutes of the second.

But the Islanders quickly fought back, with Alexander Romanov unleashing a laser of a wrist shot at the 4:18 mark to make it 3-2 and Horvat tipping in Noah Dobson’s shot from the midpoint on the power play at 13:51.

That sent the game to the third tied at three, where the Islanders would indulge in their usual late drama.

Alexander Romanov (l.) and Mathew Barzal (r.) celebrate after Romanov’s goal in the Islanders’ win. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

The third period reflected much of the rest of the game — tense, tight and fairly even between the two sides.

A stalemate that included big saves from both netminders, in particular Martin Jones on Fasching early in the period, carried on as far as overtime.

That was when Barzal finally ended it, deflecting in Dobson’s pass and putting a bow on a night of good work from the home side.

Auston Matthews scored two goals in the Maple Leafs’ overtime loss against the Islanders. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Palmieri opened the scoring after just 40 seconds of play, taking advantage of Matthews’ tripping penalty and poking in Dobson’s rebound.

That propelled the Islanders to what was shaping up to be a positive first period, but momentum was quelled when Bobby McMann converted a one-timer from the right circle at the 12:39 mark.

With losses in eight of the preceding 12 games going into Thursday, a four-game road trip through the Central Division coming up and Cizikas joining Semyon Varlamov, Ryan Pulock and Robert Bortuzzo on the shelf, the Islanders had to find some kind of a solution as soon as possible.

The Islanders won for just the second time in six games with Thursday’s victory over the Maple Leafs. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Their margin for error is shrinking, with the season hitting its halfway mark and the Metropolitan Division as close as ever.

The first try on that solution is so far so good.

That does not mean this is the answer.

But it is a good sign.

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