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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
The Isles ended their three-game road streak with a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, but the story of the game is the hat trick scored by Islanders forward John Tavares, who is the youngest player to score three goals in a game since Pat LaFontaine, Brent Sutter and Bryan Trottier.

While the Islanders sophomore scored his first career hat trick, the outcome of the game overshadowed his first major milestone.

“It doesn’t mean a whole lot when you don’t get the two points, not getting a point out of it,” Tavares said. “It’s a tough way to lose. A couple tough breaks, a couple tough calls, but that’s the way it goes. We almost found a way to push it to overtime. So we just have to be happy with the effort in the last two periods and get ready for next week.”

Even though Tavares was more concerned with the outcome of the game, his improvement over last year has been noticed by Islanders head coach Scott Gordon.

“Yeah, he was good around the net,” said Gordon. “It’s one thing to be there, but to battle and compete, that’s the hardest part. Trying to outmuscle players is something that he wanted to get better at and that’s a great example of it.”

But Tavares’ three points couldn’t win the game for the Islanders, as the Panthers battled hard, finding the back of net four times. Mike Weaver scored the first goal of the game at 4:58 to give the Panthers the early lead, but Tavares’ tied it up at 9:58, fighting through the traffic in front of Tomas Vokoun with a power play goal after James Wisniewski took a slap shot from the blue line.

Just over a minute later (11:15), Steve Bernier scored the Panthers second goal of the game, solidifying a 2-1 lead through the end of the first period. But the Islanders came back with more momentum than they showed the first period, tying up the game with Tavares’ second power play goal at 8:01.

“We’ve moved him (John Tavares) to the front of the net on the power play,” Gordon added. “He’s got such great hands and he’s going to tip pucks and give himself opportunities that he probably didn’t get last year.”

At 15:57, the Panthers scored their third goal of the game, giving them their third lead of the game when David Booth was down low to tip in Mike Weaver’s shot from the blue line. A few seconds shy of a three minute lead, Tavares netted his third goal of the game when Blake Comeau’s shot from between the circles ricocheted off of Vokoun and Tavares dragged the puck around to find the wide open net.

The game was tied at three for 14:35 until Radek Dvorak was able to tally the game winner off of a rebound from Marty Reasoner at 13:28 of the third period.

“There were pretty good screens on the first and second goal,” Gordon said about DiPietro’s play between the pipes. “There was an unfortunate tip right to their guy on the first one. I don’t think there’s a whole lot that we can say about that one. The puck was tipped again on the third goal and it hit him, it was laying behind him.”

DiPietro knew that playing two road games in a row would be a challenge, but he was still happy with the chance he was given.

“It’s definitely nice getting in there,” DiPietro said. “I’ve had a long time away from the game so it’s nice any time I have a chance to get in there. I love playing for these guys. Unfortunately there’s was a lot of crazy bounces and a lot of traffic in front of the net today, but I think our team did a good job.”

In the final minutes of the game, the Islanders pulled DiPietro, trying for the six-on-five advantage, but when PA Parenteau went to the box at 19:01 for interference, the advantage was lost and the prospect of winning became a thing of the past.

Even though the Islanders lost 4-3, they still looked sharp in their final two minutes of play and coach Gordon was impressed with his team’s spirit throughout the game.

For me, it was very encouraging for everyone to come out and play as hard as they did after in the second and third after a poor first. - Scott Gordon
“We haven’t had a lot of quality practice time and because of that it’s made it tough for us to stay sharp,” Gordon said. “For me, it was very encouraging for everyone to come out and play as hard as they did after in the second and third after a poor first.”

Tavares agreed about the team’s resilience.

“I thought we got a lot more physical, got that edge back to our game,” Tavares said about the Islanders first and second period. “But we had a couple tough breaks, couple tough calls and we played pretty well after that. We’ll take the work ethic and the never say die attitude out of it and move forward.”

The Islanders have the next three days off before playing at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night, facing off against the Montreal Canadiens for a home and home.
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