TORONTO - The New York Islanders appear destined to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, but Matt Moulson is providing a silver lining with a career season.
The 28-year-old left-winger scored twice against his hometown team in a 5-2 win over Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night to establish a career-high in goals (32) and add to his best-ever point total (61 in 73 games).
"I still get goose bumps when I go out on the ice here," said an upbeat Moulson after the game. "The Leafs were my team from a young age, and my wife was in the crowd tonight. It was the first time she's seen me play (at Air Canada Centre).
"Being from Toronto, it doesn't get much better than (scoring two goals and winning)."
It's Moulson's third consecutive 30-goal season, not bad for a guy drafted 263rd overall in 2003. Moulson had played a total of 29 NHL games for the Los Angeles Kings from 2007-09 before landing on Long Island as a free agent prior to the 2009-10 campaign.
"I was given a chance by the Islanders," said Moulson, who was rewarded last summer with a three-year, US$9.4-million contract that expires after the 2013-14 season.
"I was very fortunate with the situation when I arrived at my first Islanders training camp. I'd already known (John) Tavares for a long time, so it was good. I've been very fortunate with how it's worked out."
It’s been a good deal for the Islanders, too. Their toothless offence, ranked 29th in the league, would be even more ugly without the 1-2 punch of Tavares and Moulson. They've combined to score 63 of the team’s 174 goals this season—nearly 40 per cent of New York’s total.
"He's been overlooked many times in his career, at every level," Tavares said of Moulson. "But he stuck with it and kept working. He's a great story and a huge part of our organization. And personally, he’s been a huge part of my career.
"Three straight 30-goal seasons isn't easy to do. You have to pay a price and he's willing to do that. We're lucky to have him."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano agreed with Tavares' assessment.
"(Moulson) practises every day to get better and it's paying off for him," Capuano said. "He goes to the dirty areas in front of the net and he knows what to do when he gets there. That’s what he does best."
The next step, of course, is leading the Islanders into the playoffs for the first time since 2007. It won't happen this season, but Moulson believes New York is a team on the rise.
"We need to learn how to win close games and overtime games," he said. "We've had trouble closing out wins, and it's probably a 15-20 point difference. That's huge.
"If we learn how to win those games and get those points, it'll catapult us up the standings."
And once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.
"Hey, I still need that Stanley Cup," he said with a smile.