Anders Lee is a guy who takes very little for granted, given that he was the odd man out and down in Bridgeport when this season began.
His Islanders teammates haven't taken much for granted this season, either. They slipped up in the first six minutes of the second period Thursday night against a Maple Leafs team that looked absolutely lost in the first period, but these Isles are at their best when games are tightest, and that was true again.
Lee's second goal of the game and 18th of the season restored the Islanders' lead after two periods and they carried it through for a 3-2 victory, their third consecutive win by that score. The Islanders' .815 winning percentage in one-goal games (22-4-1) is the best in the NHL.
"You're not going to dominate in this league. The way we've been playing in these one-goal games has been huge," said Casey Cizikas, who scored for the second straight game. "These are the kind of games you have in the playoffs so you have to learn how to win them now."
Lee, a 24-year-old rookie, hasn't needed to learn how to perform his role as a go-to goal-scorer. His two Thursday night were typical for him: no-frills tallies, scored from within a 3-foot radius of the opposing goal.
He stepped in front of Cody Franson's poor pass barely a minute into the game, drove unimpeded to the Maple Leafs' net and stuffed a shot past Jonathan Bernier at 1:11.
Cizikas scored off a sitting rebound at 4:03 and the game could have seemed like a laugher. The Leafs came in on a 4-19-1 slide, played the first period devoid of any structure or effort and were lucky to come away down only 2-0.
But the opening minutes of the second period were no laughing matter. Richard Panik scored at 1:32 and Trevor Smith batted home Panik's waist-high centering feed at 4:09 with a passel of Islanders coasting back to watch.
"We all knew they were going to come hard after that first period," said Jaroslav Halak, who made 32 saves. "For some reason, we got surprised a little bit by their play in the second."
Jack Capuano called his timeout to settle things down and the Islanders slowly regained their edge. Bernier turned aside Josh Bailey's high-slot redirection of Travis Hamonic's point shot, but Lee was there, camped to the side, and swept the rebound through Bernier's legs at 12:02 of the second.
"When you have the determination to get to the front of the net, you're going to score a lot of goals," Capuano said. "You go there and good things happen. Some other guys on this team should look at that."
The Islanders were primarily the aggressors in the third, not willing to sit back. There were a few hiccups in the last couple of minutes but nothing too dangerous as the Islanders put down a third straight team headed south in the standings after 3-2 wins over the Sabres and Oilers.
"Every team is going to fight and they fought back," Lee said. "We were able to close it out."