The New York Islanders finally managed to hang on to a lead in the third period.
Tavares rifled a pass from Kyle Okposo behind Devan Dubnyk from the slot to break a 2-2 tie. New York, which had blown third-period leads at home and lost in shootouts to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres, didn't back off in the final 20 minutes this time, outshooting Edmonton 15-8 in the third period and 40-29 for the game.
"We want to keep going at them and be responsible with puck decisions," defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. "There were consecutive shifts there where we were hemming them in and forwards were doing a great job cycling in deep. We made smart decisions and chipped pucks in. That's the way we need to play."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano said the Islanders played both hard and smart.
"As we told the guys, the Buffalo game and this game, this is the way that we have to continue to play to have success," he said. "We just tried to grind it out against them. I thought our decision making and our discipline with the puck were really good tonight."
Taylor Hall scored twice in eight seconds for the Oilers late in the first period, surpassing the franchise record for fastest two goals by a player. Wayne Gretzky had two in nine seconds on Feb. 18, 1981. But that was the only offense the Oilers could manage against Evgeni Nabokov, who made 27 saves.
"It's an empty feeling because a loss is a loss," said Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL draft, one year after Tavares was the first player taken. "It's great to know I have the record but tonight wasn't our best effort. The wheels have really fallen off for us as these losses have piled up."
Edmonton is 0-4-1 in its past five games and 0-3-1 on a six-game road trip that continues with a visit to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. The Oilers are 0-6-1 in their past seven visits to Long Island since a 4-2 win on Dec. 14, 1999.
Josh Bailey and Okposo had the other goals for the Islanders (3-2-2). Dubnyk, who is Edmonton's No. 1 goalie but sat out consecutive games against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins after allowing six goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, played his best game of the season with 37 saves.
"This is where Dubie takes over and starts playing like we know he can," Hall said. "It would have been nice to get a win for him."
All three New York goals came on wide-open shots from the slot or below the circle, with the Oilers scrambling to find their checks.
"A lot of guys were on their own page tonight," Hall said. "We can't do that and expect to win."
Edmonton had two excellent chances in the early going, but Ales Hemsky had the puck roll off his stick on a wraparound with Nabokov out of position and Hall suffered the same fate on a breakaway.
The Islanders began to push the tempo and were rewarded at 9:59 when defenseman Travis Hamonic carried the puck below the goal line to the right of Dubnyk and found Bailey cutting through the lower right circle. Bailey, left alone, snapped a one-timer past Dubnyk for his third of the season.
But Hall personally wiped out the deficit and put the Oilers ahead 2-1 with his pair of goals.
At 15:52, he scored his second of the season with a wrister from the lower left circle after a superb cross-slot feed by defenseman Justin Schultz. Edmonton won the faceoff, raced into the New York zone and scored again when Hall hammered home the rebound of Mark Arcobello's shot.
The Islanders finished the period down a goal despite outshooting the Oilers 16-7.
Edmonton entered the game with the NHL's poorest penalty-killing percentage (66.7), and the Islanders made it worse after Luke Gazdic was called for tripping at 3:51 of the second period. The Oilers missed a couple of chances to clear before a four-step passing play ended with Okposo ripping a one-timer from the slot that beat Dubnyk cleanly at 4:54 for his second goal of the season.
The Oilers got three power plays in a row and had three shots on each, but Edmonton couldn't get one of them past Nabokov. At one point, they had taken 11 consecutive shots on goal and held New York without a shot for more than 11 minutes.
"Your goalie has to be your best player on the penalty kill," Capuano said. "They seamed us quite a few times on that PK in the second period and had a couple one-timers. He made some big saves for us and really that was the turning point."
The Islanders exited the period with the lead thanks to a nice give-and-go between Tavares and Okposo. Tavares outmuscled his check along the wall, got the puck to Okposo in the right corner and raced for the slot, where he took a return pass and ripped a high shot past Dubnyk's glove at 18:53 for his fourth goal of the season. The Islanders' captain has points in six consecutive games.
"On all their goals, we had somebody out of position trying to help somewhere else," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "We have to look after our own space."
Aided by two early power plays, the Islanders had the first 10 shots of the third period before the Oilers got one on Nabokov after nearly 10 minutes of play.
"It was good to see us come away with a pretty complete game in terms of the way we have to play and how hard we have to play," Tavares said. "Obviously, we had a couple letdowns with their goals, but we responded well. We have to bring it again Saturday (against the Carolina Hurricanes)."