There were hats on the ice last night at Nassau Coliseum, but they didn’t come after another sublime performance by Islanders burgeoning superstar John Tavares. In fact, the smattering wasn’t for anyone from the home team, but rather the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
It was Nazem Kadri notching his first career hat trick that managed to dazzle not only the paltry 9,222 on hand to watch Toronto top the Islanders 5-4 in overtime, but the entire NHL community. Even on a night when the unfolding Ryan O’Reilly saga was ratcheted up a notch by a high-stakes tilt between the Avalanche and the Flames (who attempted to nab the young center with an offer sheet hours before puck drop), Kadri captivated hockey fans with the type of standout individual performance that is certain to be one of the 22-year-old’s career highlights.
It was his third goal, which gave the Leafs a 4-2 lead in the second period, that was particularly impressive. Kadri raced through the neutral zone and absolutely undressed Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky before snapping one past Evgeni Nabokov to become the first Maple Leaf to tally three goals at the Coliseum since Paul Henderson -- in 1974.
“I have seen that before ... ” tweeted Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins after the play. If there was anyone reaping as much satisfaction as Kadri himself, it probably was Eakins, whose tough love seems to have sparked something in the former first-round pick. After struggling to seal his spot on the Maple Leafs' roster the past two seasons, Kadri finally seems to have it figured out. With his three-point night Thursday, the young center leads the Leafs in scoring with 21 points, seven of which have come in the past four games.
His progression is a sign of the new-look Leafs, 6-4-0 in their past 10 games and challenging both Boston and Montreal in the competitive Northeast Division. Currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings, Kadri and the Leafs appear to be ushering in a new era under Randy Carlyle with a sound defensive structure and an increased attention to detail. Even with the gas tank close to empty on the Island last night, they managed to eke out the win on the back end of a back-to-back series when captain Dion Phaneuf tallied the game-winner 1:11 into overtime.
By the way, as long as we are talking about ushering in new eras, it is certainly time for the Islanders to exorcise their demons at the old barn. New York secured a point, but that did little to improve the eyesore of an abysmal 2-9-1 home record.
For the Isles, a breakout night for Nazem “The Dream” Kadri was just another nightmare.