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Tavares making impression on Islanders teammates

Leadership of New York captain fueling play against Florida heading into Game 3

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- This is the third trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for New York Islanders captain John Tavares. He didn't enjoy how the previous two ended.

Judging by how he's performed through the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Florida Panthers, Tavares is determined to write a different script this time.

"I think it's just playoff hockey," Tavares said at the Islanders practice rink Saturday, about 11 hours after they landed in New York following a 3-1 loss at BB&T Center in Game 2 that evened the best-of-7 series.

Game 3 is at Barclays Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, FS-F).

"Obviously the experience of playing in a couple of series heading into this one (2013, 2015), the more and more you have an understanding of what you've got to do to be successful," Tavares said. "I'm just trying to play my game and do what I'm counted on for."

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm2: Tavares bangs rebound past Luongo

Tavares certainly looks to be a man on a mission, creating one offensive chance after another with the determination to carry the Islanders to their first playoff series win in 23 years. He ruined Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo's shutout with 3:33 remaining in Game 2 on Friday, one night after leading the Islanders with a goal and two assists in a 5-4 win in Game 1.

"You can tell that he's as hungry as anyone," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "He wants to win. And when you're a leader and your best player is doing those things, everyone follows suit. He's really tried to make an impact in the first few games, and he really has."

It's a change from this time last month, when Tavares and the Islanders were in a slump that cost them a chance to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and home-ice advantage in the first round. The Islanders scored three goals while getting swept during a three-game road trip (0-2-1), and then returned home and lost 4-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 21.

But by getting a playoff split in Florida, that's all a distant memory. The Islanders now have home-ice heading into Game 3.

"I think when we went through that stretch when we were struggling, guys were trying to do too much," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "I think that as a leader, [Tavares] knows, and at times I think maybe he was trying to do too much. He simplified his game. You look at that line (Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen) and the way that they're leading by example -- they're chipping pucks, they're not turning pucks over -- they're doing all the intangibles that it takes to win. When your leaders do that, especially Johnny as your captain, it's contagious and guys feed off that."

Video: BUF@NYI: Tavares ties the game at 3 with a tip-in

Okposo said, "I think he's elevated his play. Like I always say, he works extremely hard and I know he thrives this time of the year. He really loves playing in the playoffs. He's definitely elevated his game the past few weeks."

It's a continuation from the final week of the regular season for Tavares, who was rested for the finale against Philadelphia on April 10 after he had four goals and nine points in his final four regular-season games. Including the playoffs, Tavares has a point in 10 of his past 12.

"I think it bleeds in from the end of the year that he had," Islanders forward Matt Martin said. "He's been on quite the tear now for a little while. It's not only him scoring. You see him being physical and getting involved in scrums, it's contagious.

"When your best player is getting in there and sticking up for guys, I think it makes the rest of the guys follow suit."

The timing obviously couldn't be better, with the Islanders about to play their first playoff game at Barclays Center. Tavares didn't necessarily produce at the rate he would have liked during the regular season but led the Islanders with 70 points in 78 games. But Tavares always has felt offensive production comes second to doing what's required to win.

Video: NYI@WSH: Tavares one-times it past Holtby to tie game

"I'm just trying to play my game," Tavares said. "I try to approach it all season long the same. Obviously you go through ups and downs in a season, in your career, and you're just trying always trying to find ways to be more consistent and be better and be counted on in all three zones."

It's the attitude that several players admitted Saturday is contagious and has been rubbing off, and it's one the Islanders will continue to need if they plan on advancing.

Capuano said he knows he can count on Tavares to lead. It's up to the other 19 players in the lineup to match his intensity, work ethic and desire to win.

"I think everybody's competing," Tavares said. "We believe in one another and everyone's got a job to do. I think we want to go out there and individually do that, do your jobs to the best of your ability and understand within the team identity and concept we have to play with, the level we have to be at and what everyone needs to do personally to achieve our goals and success and how to build on that game-to-game, shift-to-shift."

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