Tavares followed up a five-point night 24 hours earlier with three assists and the Islanders beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday for their fifth victory in six games.
"Johnny's at the top of his game right now," linemate Kyle Okposo said of Tavares, who was named to Canada's Olympic Team earlier in the day. "He's the catalyst of our team every night."
Tavares' first three-assist game of the season came one night after he had a hat trick and two assists in a 7-3 home victory against the Dallas Stars. He has 54 points, tying him with Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks for second in the League scoring race.
"It was a good win," Tavares said. "Not our prettiest game, or our best game, but for the circumstances of getting here late last night and playing a team that was fresh, we did a good job of staying with it and taking advantage of our opportunities."
Tavares' second assist of the night came on Frans Nielsen's tie-breaking power-play goal early in the third period. Nielsen snapped home a loose puck in the slot at 3:41 on the Islanders' lone power play of the game to break a 2-2 tie.
The Islanders opened a six-game trip with their fifth consecutive road victory.
"We did some good things, but it seemed like we were climbing a mountain," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "Every time we got things back to even, we couldn't push it over the mountain. I thought we played passive; we were afraid to make a mistake."
It was a tough night for Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier, whose goaltending is perhaps the biggest reason Toronto holds a playoff berth despite being outshot by more than nine shots per game. He didn't look good on a first-period goal by Okposo, misplayed a second-period clearing attempt that turned into a goal by Michael Grabner and didn't stop a slap shot from outside the blue line by Calvin de Haan that gave the Islanders a 4-2 lead.
"It wasn't one of his better nights," Carlyle said. "That's the way I'd like to describe it. We've called upon him too many times this year, in a lot of situations, and you can't point your finger at one guy for losing.
"You can't give up five goals and win in the NHL"
Bernier's struggles enabled New York (16-22-7) to survive a late push by Toronto that included Lupul's goal with 3:05 remaining. The Islanders' Cal Clutterbuck hit the empty net with 8.3 seconds left, wrapping up the 100th NHL victory for New York coach Jack Capuano.
Toronto, coming off a 7-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, opened the scoring 5:05 into the game. After a weak backhanded clearing attempt by de Haan, defenseman Paul Ranger fired a shot from the left point shot that was deflected in the slot by Bozak and fluttered past Poulin for his sixth goal of the season.
The Islanders tied it with 43.5 seconds left in the period when a harmless-looking shot by Okposo beat Bernier. Okposo, who missed the Islanders' game Monday night due to the birth of his first child, took a pass from Tavares, used a defenseman as a screen and fired a long wrister from the high slot that went past Bernier's blocker for his 17th of the season.
"I thought we got off to a decent start, but then you give one up in the last couple minutes of the period and that's never good," Bozak said.
New York not only killed the game's first penalty, but turned it into the go-ahead goal 3:06 into the second period. Just after de Haan's tripping penalty had expired, Nielsen cleared the puck down the ice with Grabner behind the defense. Bernier came out to play the puck, but couldn't do so cleanly and it wound up outside the trapezoid. Grabner grabbed the loose puck, raced around and wrapped the puck past a diving Bernier for his sixth of the season.
Toronto had more success on its second power play against the NHL's bottom-rated penalty-kill. With Travis Hamonic off for hooking, Jake Gardiner took a shot from the right point that Poulin stopped with his glove but didn't control. Raymond slid the rebound under Poulin's pad at 8:25 for his 12th of the season and first in seven games.
The Islanders managed to kill off two more Toronto power plays to escape the second period even at 2-2.
"The second period wasn't very good for us," Capuano said. "We were back on our heels a little bit. I thought we responded in the third and did some good things."
New York got its first power play 2:33 into the third period when Lupul was called for goaltender interference, and the Islanders used the power play to take the lead. Thomas Vanek snapped a shot from the high slot that hit Toronto defenseman Cody Franson just in front of the crease, and Nielsen shoved the loose puck into the net at 3:41 for his 16th of the season, one short of his career high. The assist extended Vanek's point streak to 10 games, the longest current stretch in the League.
De Haan scored his first NHL goal at 6:01 on a shot Bernier definitely wanted back. The rookie teed up a slapper from outside the blue line; the shot ticked off defenseman Dion Phaneuf 45 feet from the net, hit Bernier and went past him.
"I just tried to put the puck on net," said de Haan, who was taken 11 picks after Tavares in the 2009 NHL Draft, but is just beginning to show the skills that persuaded the Islanders to trade up for him.
"Obviously it's pretty cool, especially to score in my home province. They all count. It's a great feeling."
Lupul made it a one-goal game at 16:55 when Nazem Kadri's wrister from the right point hit him in the chest and deflected past Poulin.
"I thought we battled pretty hard and we limited their shots, especially compared to other nights," Bozak said. "We were in it to the end, and it's unfortunate we lost."
Material from team media was used in this report.
|Tyler Bozak (6) ASST: Paul Ranger (7), James van Riemsdyk (16)|
1 - 0 TOR
|Kyle Okposo (17) ASST: John Tavares (32), Travis Hamonic (7)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Michael Grabner (6) ASST: NONE|
2 - 1 NYI
|PPG - Mason Raymond (12) ASST: Jake Gardiner (11), Nazem Kadri (13)|
2 - 2 Tie
|PPG - Frans Nielsen (16) ASST: Thomas Vanek (22), John Tavares (33)|
3 - 2 NYI
|Calvin de Haan (1) ASST: Travis Hamonic (8), John Tavares (34)|
4 - 2 NYI
|Joffrey Lupul (13) ASST: Nazem Kadri (14)|
4 - 3 NYI
|EN - Cal Clutterbuck (6) ASST: Michael Grabner (8)|
5 - 3 NYI
|Power Play %||15.9%||18.8%|
|% on Road||7.7%||10.3%|
|% at Home||21.6%||25.0%|
|Calvin de Haan Tripping against Jerry D'Amigo|
|Travis Hamonic Hooking against Nazem Kadri|
|John Tavares Tripping against Jerry D'Amigo|
|Matt Carkner Hooking against Tyler Bozak|
|Joffrey Lupul Interference on goalkeeper against Kevin Poulin|
|Brian Strait Delaying Game-Puck over glass|