UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The guessing game has already started about which player will have to go to the Toronto Marlies once the Maple Leafs get to full strength after the all-star break.
The farm team has three games during the NHL all-star break and players such as Keith Aulie or Darryl Boyce could get loaned out earlier than expected . John-Michael Liles will definitely bump someone from the blue line next week, but rookie Jake Gardiner helped his cause on Tuesday with his long-awaited first NHL goal, one that pulled the Leafs even with the Islanders in an eventual 4-3 overtime win,
“Pretty awesome, a once in a lifetime thing,” said the elated Gardiner, who had played 41 games with 12 assists before seeing his first one bend the twine. “It was kind of a lucky play, but it feels good. Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel were screaming at me to shoot the puck tonight (and coach Ron Wilson a long time before that), so I threw it on net and it went in.”
A screening Nazem Kadri had to get out of the way and Clarke MacArthur was in Al Montoya’s grill, but avoided a goalie interference penalty. Gardiner came into the game with 39 shots and a 10-goal season last year at the University of Wisconsin. But his main attributes are skating and passing.
“I love passing, but it’s a little harder here than at the college level, because guys are quicker and smarter. But when you get the chance to shoot it, you have to.”