It was the kind of play that showed why the New York Islanders made John Tavares the first player picked in the 2009 NHL Draft.
The third-year center went coast-to-coast for the tiebreaking goal early in the third period as the Islanders snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Thursday night.
Tavares took a short pass from new linemate Kyle Okposo in his own zone and raced down the right side. He cut around Chris Butler while putting the puck between the defenseman's stick and skate, then swept a forehand shot past Miikka Kiprusoff at 3:20 to snap a 1-1 tie.
"When your best player is your best player in a game, you've got a good chance to win. And '91' was real strong tonight," coach Jack Capuano said of Tavares. "He hasn't been scoring as much of late, but the chances are there, and he buried one tonight."
The goal was the 12th of the season for Tavares. He also assisted on Andrew MacDonald's tying goal early in the second period and had a handful of other excellent chances denied by Kiprusoff, who finished with 31 saves.
"I should have had another one at least," Tavares said. "I definitely have to be doing it more often. That was a big time in the game, and it feels good to contribute."
Brian Rolston, returning from a concussion, added an empty-netter with 43 seconds left as the Islanders ended Calgary's four-game winning streak and beat the Flames for the fifth time in their last six meetings.
It was Okposo's first game on the right side with Tavares and Matt Moulson as Capuano shuffled his lines following Monday's 3-0 loss to the Rangers.
“I think a lot of people forget that we played a lot in our first year together [in 2009-10],” Tavares said of Okposo, whose own play has picked up in recent weeks. "We had a lot of success that year. Even though it’s only the first game in a long time we’ve played together, I know the way he plays.”
Evgeni Nabokov made perhaps the best of his 29 saves with 8:20 left in regulation when he went left-to-right to stop Lee Stempniak's backhander. He also made an excellent stop on Rene Bourque's power-play deflection less than two minutes later.
"He really knows how to handle any kind of situation in any game,” Tavares said of the 36-year-old goaltender. "He’s definitely a stabilizer back there for us.”
The Islanders showed the kind of determination they lacked in their previous three games, a pair of road losses to the Rangers that bookended a 5-3 home loss to Toronto.
"It was a total team effort. The guys should be proud of their work ethic," Capuano said.
His Calgary counterpart, Brent Sutter, wasn't thrilled with what he saw from his team.
"Our compete level wasn't at the level where it needs to be," said Sutter, who won three Cups with the Islanders as a player in the early 1980s.
Calgary spent most of the first minute pinned in its own zone, but got a fortunate bounce to open the scoring at 1:11. Brendan Morrison stripped Isles defenseman Mike Mottau at the Calgary line, carried into the New York zone and left the puck for Tom Kostopoulos, who threw a pass from near the right boards toward the crease. The puck hit the skate of MacDonald, then caromed off Calgary forward Tim Jackman and into the net for Jackman's first goal in 62 games since Feb. 12.
Kiprusoff made his best save of the period with just under two minutes left when he denied Michael Grabner's 15-foot snap shot from the slot after a perfect feed from Josh Bailey.
MacDonald and the Islanders got even 3:04 into the second period thanks to some good work by Tavares, who dug the puck out behind the net and slid it to PA Parenteau. He looked up and found MacDonald, who had slipped in between the circles. MacDonald one-timed Parenteau's feed past Kiprusoff's glove for his third of the season.
“I noticed their forwards weren’t paying attention," MacDonald said. "There was a lot of area open down the middle, and he did a great job of putting it on my stick.”
Both goaltenders then came up big on excellent chances by the opposition's top gun. Nabokov robbed Jarome Iginla from 10 feet after a perfect feed by Olli Jokinen near the eight-minute mark, and Kiprusoff denied Tavares both on a deflection and on a wide-open rip from the slot. Kiprusoff thwarted Tavares again three minutes later with a poke check after Tavares was set up alone in front.
It was a return to Long Island for Flames forward Blake Comeau, who was claimed by the Flames after being waived by the Isles last month. He was scoreless in 16 games before being waived, and is 2-3-5 in 17 games with Calgary.
"It's not all about me. It's disappointing not get two points (when) we're in a playoff race," said Comeau, who went out to dinner with some former teammates on Wednesday. "I wish nothing but the best for them."
The Flames played the end of the second period and all of the third with five defensemen after Derek Smith left with a leg injury.
Material from team media was used in this report.