The No. 1 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft scored on a rebound with 6:12 left in regulation as the Islanders rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Friday afternoon.
Two days after falling apart in the third period of a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia, the Islanders overcame a 2-1 deficit in the final 20 minutes with perhaps their best third period of the season.
New York tied the game at 2-2 just 84 seconds into the third period on a goal by Sean Bergenheim and carried the play for the next few minutes. But the Islanders were unable to beat Brent Johnson until Tavares popped home the rebound of Freddy Meyer's point shot for his 10th goal of the season, tops among all rookies. It was the first game-winning goal of his NHL career and ended Pittsburgh's three-game winning streak.
"We just did the right things out there," Tavares said. "We knew we had to get one, and it was a great shot by Bergy to tie it up. We stuck to our game plan and got pucks behind their defense, which we didn't do enough of against Philly, and we were able to get on them and take them to the net. Overall, it was a solid third period -- one of our best of the year."
The Islanders, who were outshot 11-1 in the third period of the loss to Philadelphia, dominated the final 20 minutes this time, outshooting the Penguins 18-5 in the period and 37-21 for the game.
"I don't think we made more than one or two turnovers in the third period," coach Scott Gordon said. "We pushed the pace."
It was Tavares' second matchup against the Penguins and Sidney Crosby. On Oct. 3, both players had a goal and an assist before Crosby got the shootout winner. This time, Crosby was held without a point and the day belonged to Tavares.
"He looks like he's pretty comfortable out there," Crosby said. "He's getting more confidence every day."
Josh Bailey opened the scoring for the Islanders, but the Penguins tied it late in the first period on a goal by Evgeni Malkin and went ahead on Matt Cooke's goal 7:12 into the second.
However, Pittsburgh missed a chance to take control of the game when the Islanders ran into penalty trouble late in the second period. Isles defenseman Jack Hillen was called for interference at 13:19 and Andy Sutton got four minutes for high-sticking Malkin at 14:24. Although Pittsburgh controlled the puck for most of that stretch, New York's penalty-killers did an excellent job of keeping the Penguins to the outside of the box, limiting their opportunities.
"We had a 5-on-3 and we had an additional three minutes or so of power-play time," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of his struggling power-play unit, which went 0-for-5 and is now 4-for-55 in its last 14 games. "It was an opportunity that we didn't capitalize on, and they were energized by dodging that bullet. They kept coming pretty hard after that."
Gordon agreed that the long penalty kill was a turning point.
"It was huge," he said. "There were two shots -- one-timers from the top of the circle that Rollie was able to stop. That was pretty much all we gave up.
"It could have been a huge turnaround if they had been able to score."
The Islanders opened the scoring at 9:05 thanks to an alert play by defenseman Mark Streit, who raced up the left side and had lots of room thanks to a line change. Streit's point shot was stopped by Johnson, but Bailey slammed home the rebound for a 1-0 lead.
Pittsburgh got even at 17:22 when Malkin's bad-angled backhander from well below the right circle somehow snuck past Roloson, who wasn't entirely flush to the post. The goal extended Malkin's points streak to five games.
Tavares nearly broke the tie two minutes into the second period when he deked his way past the defense but Johnson deflected his shot over the net. He sifted through the defense again three minutes later, but was poke-checked by Johnson before he could get off a shot.
Roloson was sloppy again on Pittsburgh's go-ahead goal at 7:12. Jordan Staal threw the puck on goal from the right circle, and Roloson left the rebound there for an unchecked Cooke to hammer into a wide-open net.
After the Isles' penalty kill kept the deficit at one goal through two periods, the Islanders needed only 1:24 of the third to get even. Bergenheim took a pass from Frans Nielsen, skated through the left circle and snapped a shot from the dot that beat Johnson high to the far corner, over his glove.
New York continued to carry the play until Tavares' goal, and had several more chances that kept Johnson busy in the final minutes.
The Penguins were 11-1 when leading after two periods, while the Islanders hadn't won in 10 tries when trailing after 40 minutes. But Bylsma said he had every expectation that the Isles would come out firing in the final period.
"Everything, to this point, that the Islanders have done this year has proven they're going to be a hard-working team," he said. "They keep coming, they keep working, they keep sending guys over the boards who have that work ethic. They did that very well in the second period and again in the third."