The Leafs’ young prospects continued to excite the team’s fans with a possible foreshadowing of brighter days, making the difference in a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday.
Nikita Soshnikov had the shootout winner in the fourth round; the only skater on either side to score.
Zach Hyman scored his second goal in as many games, and William Nylander forced overtime after scoring a power play goal with 1:13 left in regulation.
“The veterans have been helping us,” Nylander said after the game. “The way we’ve been playing, everyone contributed to the win today.”
The victory snapped Toronto’s six game winless slide, and was the first win for each of the three young skaters experienced at the NHL level.
Goaltender Garret Sparks, in addition to being perfect in the shootout, made 24 saves for the victory.
John Tavares opened the scoring in the game for the Islanders in the first period, collecting his own rebound after bursting in on a breakaway. Hyman knotted the score after finding a loose puck in a crowded crease in front of Islanders netminder Thomas Greiss.
The Leafs went ahead in the second period, courtesy of Morgan Rielly’s seventh goal of the year. Rielly took a drop pass from Nazem Kadri who had just exited the penalty box, and beat Greiss from the point, finding the back of the net on his 22nd birthday.
But before the middle frame ended, Sparks gave up a bad goal to the far side as Islanders defenceman Nick Leddy went coast-to-coast to even the affair 2-2.
Ryan Strome put the Islanders in front in the third period, scoring on a partial breakaway after the puck barely trickle past the goal line behind a helpless Sparks. It appeared that the marker would hold up as the game winner until the Leafs were given a power play, Strome off for hooking late in regulation.
With Sparks on the bench for an additional attacker, Nylander cashed in, converting on a rebound after Greiss kicked out Kadri’s initial shot.
“That’s the type of situations I want to be in. It’s nice that (Babcock) gives you the chance,” Nylander said.
Coach Mike Babcock praised his young forwards. “I thought this was Nylander’s best game by a mile,” he said. “Most competitive game. Obviously he’s a huge talent.
Hyman and (Soshnikov) are here to stay. They’re real players. They’re going to play. They’re just too good and too hard and too fast. Too much work ethic. So those guys will play and then (Nylander) is obviously getting better.”