NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Islanders may have the look of a contending team in the Eastern Conference this season, but few would argue that captain John Tavares will be the player fueling the engine when it matters most.
Tavares did just that when he helped the Islanders overcome two third-period deficits before scoring his second goal of the game with 1:55 remaining in overtime to give New York a 3-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Friday.
"[Tavares] has been great all year; he's been a horse for us," Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. "We're very lucky to have him. He's our best player more often than not."
Tavares was dominant when his team needed him most. He scored his 19th of the season and League-leading third overtime goal by stripping the puck from Devils defenseman Adam Larsson behind the net and skating into the slot before beating rookie goaltender Keith Kinkaid.
"I just had a good beat on [Larsson] and disrupted him enough and was able to strip him and make a quick turn to the net," Tavares said. "I saw Calvin de Haan coming down the pipe and my original thought was to go to him, but their forward stayed there and didn't come to me. I saw Kinkaid challenge me and I hit the far corner."
It was a play Larsson wishes he had back.
"He just got the stick on me there and he got the puck and he got body position too, so it was hard for me to recover," said Larsson, who logged 24:47 of ice time. "[Maybe I lost my balance] a little bit, but it's just a bad play by me. It's my fault."
Bailey had the other goal for the Islanders (27-13-1), who trailed 1-0 and 2-1 in the third period. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who was making his sixth straight start, finished with 21 saves. The victory moved New York into first place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a game in hand.
"It was a big win, and we showed a lot of character and accountability," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "You could feel it during the game; we were generating zone time and it was just a matter of time before we got one."
Tavares pulled the Islanders into a 2-2 tie with 6:13 left in regulation when he banked a shot into the net off the left leg of Kinkaid from along the goal line near the left post.
"More than anyone else, he doesn't want to lose hockey games," Capuano said of Tavares.
Kinkaid wasn't quite sure where the puck had landed after the initial shot taken by Kyle Okposo missed the net.
"He hit the back of my leg; I didn't want to move into it or jump because you don't want it to hit you, but it did and went in," Kinkaid said.
Tavares, who was held without a shot on goal in a 3-2 loss at the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, had two goals and three points, finished with a game-high five shots and was 65 percent (11-of-17) on faceoffs.
"I don't think we ever put our heads down and we overcame the challenge," Tavares said after ending the Islanders' two-game losing streak. "I don't think we gave them a whole lot and stuck with it. It paid off."
The Devils took their second lead of the game, 2-1, when Gomez put the puck into an empty net at 7:23 of the third after a turnover by Halak. The goaltender attempted to control the puck behind his net after a dump-in by Michael Ryder but seemed surprised when a hustling Adam Henrique charged the zone and simply took the puck away from him in the trapezoid before feeding Gomez alone in the slot.
"I thought we'd been playing pretty well and their second goal was a little miscommunication on our part and a little bit of a gift for them," Tavares said. "We had to bounce back and stick with it, keep going at them. I thought we generated more opportunities than they did down the stretch."
The Islanders trailed 1-0 after 40 minutes but tied the game 1:02 into the third period when Bailey redirected a shot past Kinkaid from the slot. Tavares won an offensive-zone draw against Zajac and defenseman Calvin de Haan took a slap shot from the left point that Bailey deflected into the net for his seventh of the season.
"It's a meat-and-potatoes type goal," Bailey said. "We talked after the second period about getting bodies in front and I just tried to get there, get a piece of it."
Zajac gave the Devils a 1-0 lead in the second at 11:57 of the second period. Following a give-and-go with Patrick Elias from the right circle, Zajac got a return feed at the right hash and ripped home his seventh of the season.
Kinkaid made seven saves in the first period and 13 in the second, including a big stop against de Haan from in tight at 16:11. The Long Island native, who grew up an Islanders fan, made his second start against New York this season. He made 31 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 15, a game that also saw the Islanders tie the game in the third period.
"I felt really good, but I've got to have better third periods," said Kinkaid, who has a 1-2-3 record despite a 2.16 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. "That's been the story of my career so far. We have the lead and then they tie it; but I have to hold onto that lead. That's something I was pretty good at so I guess I have to find the next level."
Devils interim co-coach Lou Lamoriello was satisfied with Kinkaid's effort.
"A young goaltender is going through these experiences, but he played as well as we could ask of him," he said.
The Islanders conclude a seven-game road trip with games against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday and the New York Rangers on Tuesday. They extended their winning streak against the Devils to five games and are 3-0-0 this season. The Devils, who have lost two straight, embark on a three-game California trip, playing the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks before returning home against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 28.
"It's unfortunate because we should have come out of here with two points," Lamoriello said. "We did a lot of good things, but we have to do it more consistently, more often. The players are aware of it. We gave away the lead twice, but we've got to learn too. You can't take offensive [zone] penalties."
In an effort to spark his offense, Capuano moved Mikhail Grabovski onto the top line alongside Tavares and Okposo to open the game. But Bailey took his place after Grabovski left the game midway through the second period with a lower-body injury and didn't return. Capuano said Grabovski would be re-evaluated on Saturday.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL