Islanders come charging at Maple Leafs

TORONTO -- The New York Islanders can pass the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings with a win in regulation on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

That is an indication how much things have changed for the Islanders.

They will face the Maple Leafs buoyed by a 5-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday after they lost 3-0 to the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday.

The Islanders (25-19-10) had the fewest points in the Eastern Conference on Jan. 17 when Jack Capuano was fired as coach and replaced by Doug Weight on an interim basis.

They have gone 10-3-2 in the past 15 games and have moved within one point of the Maple Leafs (25-18-11), who are in a playoff position.

"We knew the talent and work ethic and the right attitude was in here," Islanders center John Tavares said. "It's such a long season and things get written off so early. I think we see how tight the East is. ... There was a change with (Weight) and we kept improving and we've made our games meaningful now."

The Maple Leafs have noticed.

"I never ever thought they weren't a good team," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after practice on Monday. "I don't think anyone really thought that. I mean they have an elite, elite center in John Tavares. They have good players. Now they seem to have gotten excited and got it going. They're 6-2-2 in their last 10."

The Islanders defeated the Maple Leafs 6-5 in overtime in Brooklyn on Feb. 6, overcoming Toronto leads of 4-2 and 5-4.

"They found a way to win the game," Babcock said. "We've got to find a way to win a game at home."

"You have to play the full 60, or most of it, to get the right results," Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "We've been doing a better job of that of late."

Tavares has worked well with Anders Lee and Josh Bailey on the Islanders' first line. Lee has 20 goals and 12 assists in his past 35 games.

"I think (Lee) and (Bailey) have proved a lot of people wrong as far as guys who can play those kind of minutes," Weight said. "They've helped Johnny in a lot of ways, too."

The Islanders also defeated the Maple Leafs 5-1 on Oct. 30.

Toronto has lost six of its past eight games, including two in a row, 3-1 to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and 2-1 in overtime to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

We haven't played as well night in and night out as we're capable of playing," Babcock said. "Our team didn't get off to a good start last game (trailing Buffalo 3-0 after the first period Saturday). We looked lethargic. They won all the battles. They were better than us."

"We understand that we're going to the other teams' best," Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said Monday. "But they're going to see our best as well.

"I feel we're in a great position here. If we looked at the beginning of the season and wrote this down two-thirds of the way through the season, we would have taken it. I really feel like collectively that we all have another gear here and what better time to show it."

Maple Leafs right winger Nikita Soshnikov, who has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, practiced with the team on Monday but might miss the game Tuesday.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start in goal.

"I think we want to ply in the offensive zone a little bit more," Maple Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk said. "That's a good way to wear down the other team and makes it harder for them to create offense when the puck is obviously farther away from our net."

Babcock said, "There are lots of points available. The most important two right now are (Tuesday) night because it's the one we're playing."
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