John Tavares didn't just break out of his offensive slump. He shattered it, blew it to pieces, and helped the New York Islanders win in Vancouver for the first time in 11 years.
Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft last June, scored twice and had three primary assists for a career-best five-point night, leading the Islanders to a stunning 5-2 victory over the Canucks on Tuesday night.
Tavares burst into the NHL with 15 goals and 27 points in his first 32 games. But the 19-year-old had just 3 tallies and 9 points in his next 37 games before tying the franchise single-game points record with the best night of his young career.
"I think I've been playing really well since before the (Olympic) break," Tavares said. "After the break, I've been playing really well all over the ice, and it's nice to be rewarded.
Isles coach Scott Gordon agreed that Tavares' overall play has been better than his scoring numbers (20 goals, 21 assists) would indicate.
"I've said all along there's nothing wrong with John," Gordon said. "He's a boy who's going to become a man, and his play has improved. He hasn't gotten the production, but a lot of the little things -- winning battles along the wall. His faceoffs were better, he's competing harder on pucks.
"He's slowly getting his confidence offensively, but it's the play away from the puck that I've really been pleased with."
Dwayne Roloson made 35 saves and outplayed Roberto Luongo, who was beaten four times on just 12 shots before being lifted after two periods. Andrew Raycroft stopped all eight shots he faced -- including four breakaways -- before Tavares hit the empty net to wrap up the scoring and give the Isles their first road win since Jan. 9.
Tavares said the Isles got a little boost from some of the local newspapers, who disparaged their chances of beating the Northwest Division leaders in a city where they hadn't won since January 1999.
"For sure," he said when asked if the newspaper articles helped energize the Isles. "I think since the start of the season, no one pegged us to do much this season. We've had our ups and downs, but we've battled hard and we've competed, and we've done everything we could to stay alive."
The Canucks, who hadn't lost in regulation at GM Place since Jan. 11, had little life from the start after winning at home Saturday and Sunday in their return from a 14-game Olympic trip. Luongo said the Canucks may have taken the Isles lightly.
"We came into the game and we weren't really respecting the opposition," Luongo, Vancouver's captain, said of facing the Isles, who were 13th in the East and all but out of the playoff chase. "They came out strong, they made some plays and before we knew it, we were down 2-0. We've come back before, but it's not going to happen every game."
Tavares helped start the scoring when he fed a perfect pass to rookie defenseman Dylan Reese for a screened 45-foot wrister past Luongo at 6:22. He doubled the lead at 11:45, tapping in a loose puck for a power-play goal.
Tavares did the heavy lifting again when he whipped a perfect backhand pass to Matt Moulson, who drove to the net and banged the puck past Luongo at 15:30 of the second.
Moulson, whose name was spelled "Coulson" in a pregame newspaper article, was one Islander who took offense to having his team overlooked.
"Hopefully after this game, in my home country, they can spell my name right," Moulson told MSG Plus during a between-periods interview after scoring his team-high 26th goal. (The writer) seems to think my name is Coulson.
"I'm not going to lie -- it ticked me off."
That goal appeared to rouse the Canucks, who were getting a lot of shots at Roloson but few top-caliber chances. Kyle Wellwood went to the net and flipped a rebound past Roloson at 16:35, and Alex Burrows took a passout from Henrik Sedin and slid the puck into the net exactly two minutes later.
But Tavares came through again in the final seconds, driving down the right wing, cutting to the net and putting a shot on goal that hit teammate Freddy Meyer, who had been knocked to his knees in the crease, before sliding past Luongo with 7.6 seconds remaining.
"I thought down 3-2 with a minute to left in the second, we were in good shape," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "That fourth goal was the turning point of the game."
Tavares sealed the Isles third consecutive win with his empty-netter, keeping the Isles within seven points of eighth-place Boston in the East.
"To get a big win against a team like this gives us a lot of confidence," he said. "They're one of the best teams in the League, and this is a tough building to play. We put ourselves back in it on the weekend, and this is a good start to the road trip."
Material from broadcast media was used in this report.
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