Tavares ended a month-long scoring slump and triggered a three-goal outburst late in the first period as the New York Islanders beat the Lightning 5-1 on Tuesday night to extend their unbeaten streak in regulation to five games.
Tavares' goal at 14:01 tied the game at 1-1, and goals 88 seconds apart by Matt Martin and Milan Jurcina put the Isles ahead to stay. Rookie David Ullstrom added his first NHL goal early in the third period, and Matt Moulson extended his goal-scoring streak to five games with a late power-play tally as the Islanders improved to 4-0-1 in their last five games. New York, the League's lowest-scoring team, has scored 14 goals in its last three contests.
"It's great getting chances, but it's about time I started capitalizing on them more frequently," said Tavares, who had five assists in his last two games but hadn't scored a goal since Nov. 5. "It was nice to get that one early in the game – to finally see one go in. I've got to stick with it and keep producing when I get my opportunities."
The Lightning, who lost 4-2 in Ottawa on Monday, looked sluggish for much of the night in losing their fifth in a row. Isles goaltender Al Montoya made 22 saves but faced little sustained pressure.
"It's tough. You get in a down spiral like this – we're a fragile team right now."
Added coach Guy Boucher: "We've been missing open nets [in our previous losses], but not tonight. Other nights we had plenty of chances and were deserving of a better fate, but tonight it was clear-cut, against an opponent that was fresh. We weren't good at all."
The Islanders took the game's first five shots, but the Lightning got on the scoreboard first. Brett Clark took a pass from Steven Stamkos and teed up a slap shot from beyond the top of the left circle. St. Louis, standing just to the right of Montoya's crease, tipped the shot into the net for his ninth goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.
But that was just about the last thing that went right for the Lightning.
"We were fine – up a goal, going good," St. Louis said. "Then we just collapsed. We got beaten after that. When things go bad for a succession of games, especially when you think you deserved a little better than some of the results, when something bad happens, you have that feeling of ‘here we go again.'"
It started going when Tavares scored his first goal in 14 games, taking a feed from Moulson and snapping a shot past Mathieu Garon's glove from the high slot. Three of his nine goals this season have come against the Lightning.
The Isles took the lead at 18:26 when Martin finished off a play he started with a crushing check on defenseman Matt Gilroy that freed up the puck. Travis Hamonic picked up the puck and fed newcomer Tim Wallace behind the net; Martin raced to the front of the crease to finish off Wallace's passout for his third of the season.
Wallace, signed as a free agent this summer and recalled from AHL Bridgeport due to injuries to Nino Niederreiter and Michael Grabner, earned his first NHL point since Jan. 1, 2009, when he had an assist for Pittsburgh against Boston.
"He took body real well," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of Wallace. "He gave us a big lift. It was a big goal back behind the net and the cutback to Matty Martin.”
New York beat the clock to make it 3-1, scoring a power-play goal with 5.5 seconds left in the first period. With Nate Thompson in the box for boarding, Jurcina snuck down from the right point to finish of a brilliant passing play that saw Josh Bailey feed Mark Streit, who wheeled a backhand pass to Frans Nielsen for a back-door feed to Jurcina all alone just outside the crease for his first of the season.
The Islanders received three power plays in the first 9:36 of the second period, but were unable to convert despite good pressure. Streit came closest early in the third advantage when he beat Garon but hit the post from the top of the right circle.
Garon kept the deficit at two goals early in the third period when he flashed left-to-right to glove a one-timer from well inside the left circle by PA Parenteau off a superb feed by Moulson. But he had no chance on Ullstrom's first NHL goal, a blast from just inside the left circle at 3:19 after a drop pass by Bailey on what turned out to be a 3-on-1 break.
"It's a great feeling," said Ullstrom, a 22-year-old Swede who is earning more ice time since being called up last month. "It was a great feed from Bailey, and I stepped right into it and fired it as hard as I could."
Moulson was scoreless on seven shots through two periods, but kept his goal-scoring streak alive by snapping a deflected pass behind Garon from the left of the slot.
"Not going to lie, I felt a little heavy legged early on,” Moulson said. “As we got going there, I felt a little better, but I couldn’t buy one for a while. Luckily, I got one (goal) at the end and I think our line played a real solid game tonight.”
Tavares has enjoyed watching his linemate fill the net.
"He probably could have had another four tonight," said a smiling Tavares, who set up three of Moulson's four goals in Dallas on Saturday. "He's all around that net. He's good at sniffing it out. It was a great shot there at the end of the game, and he made a great play to me.
"He's a really good player. He doesn't wow you, but he makes the plays and he knows how to get it done. I've loved playing with him for the last couple of years."
The Lightning have a welcome day off on Wednesday before a return match with the Rangers in New York on Thursday -- the Rangers won 4-2 at Tampa on Saturday.
Boucher said playing back-to-back games is not something his team does well.
"We've done great things lately," he said. "Tonight was a horrible game – the first horrible game in a long time. We haven't played one good back-to-back game in almost two years now. Our team has major trouble in back-to-backs, and it was just another proof tonight."
Martin St. Louis
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NYI
3 - 1 NYI
4 - 1 NYI
5 - 1 NYI
Martin St. Louis