Tavares lifts Islanders past Senators in shootout
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- John Tavares possessed the talent to become one of the NHL's best players from the moment the New York Islanders made him the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft. Now, he's beginning to display the intangibles that can turn potential into greatness.
Tavares, who spent the previous two days in bed battling the flu, capped a pivotal victory for the Islanders Sunday afternoon with a spectacular goal in the shootout as the Islanders edged the Ottawa Senators, 3-2, at Nassau Coliseum.
Frans Nielsen got credit for the game-winning goal after he beat Robin Lehner with the first shot of the shootout, but it was Tavares' goal on the third and final shot that wowed the crowd of 13,512. Tavares pulled Lehner to the left of the goalmouth before he dropped his left hand and, with his momentum still carrying him to the left, used his right hand to backhand the puck into the right corner of the net.
The Islanders, who took a 2-1 lead with less than four minutes to play in the third but allowed the Senators to tie it with just 1:09 left, jumped over the boards to mob Tavares, who looked exhausted as his teammates pounded his back.
"He doesn't disappoint," said teammate Brad Boyes, who scored in the first period. "Shifts were a little shorter and he probably didn't have that jump that he normally does. But you get a guy like that and (he's) going to contribute somehow. And he still contributed even though he wasn't 100 percent."
Tavares left a meet and greet with Islanders season ticket holders Friday night and said he was so sick that he could barely make it up to bed once he got home.
"I started to feel a little better last night (around) 4, 5 o'clock," Tavares said. "Never really thought I wasn't going to play. I wanted to play."
The win for the Islanders (9-11-2) -- who lost in overtime to the Maple Leafs on Thursday -- was their first on a season-long seven-game homestand (1-2-1) and moved them within three points of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Their home record of 3-8-1 is still the worst in the NHL.
Mika Zibanejad scored in the second period and Patrick Wiercioch forced overtime late in the third for the Senators (12-7-4), who lost their season-high third in a row as their road woes continued.
Ottawa, which is in the midst of a 22-game stretch in which it plays 15 games on the road, is 3-7-1 on the road, the second-worst road record of any team currently among the top eight in its conference.
"To get the one point is huge in a short season like this," said Lehner, who made 33 saves in just his second start of the season. "But we worked really hard in overtime and then I was more than useless in the shootout."
In the Islanders' last home win on Feb. 16, Tavares registered the fourth hat trick of his career in a 5-1 victory over the Devils. He didn't have it in him to be quite so explosive on Sunday, but head coach Jack Capuano's judicious use of Tavares -- he played just 11 minutes in the first two periods and 19:09 overall, his third-lowest ice time of the season -- paid off in the shootout.
"You talk about elite players, that's what they do," Capuano said. "Johnny wasn't feeling very well, but I knew he wasn't going to miss the game.
"Very selective in how we used him because we knew he was feeling a little under the weather. But he tries to put your team on his back, he tries to help your team in any situations that he can."
It didn't seem as if the Islanders would need any overtime dramatics when Michael Grabner picked up a loose puck and fired it past defenseman Eric Gryba and Lehner to give New York a 2-1 lead with just 3:29 left in regulation.
But the Senators managed to tie it with a power play goal when Wiercioch's slap shot sailed between a half-dozen players and past a shielded Evgeni Nabokov (29 saves).
Both teams had scoring opportunities in a fast-paced overtime before Nielsen and Tavares spared the Islanders another gut-wrenching home loss. New York blew a 2-0 lead against Carolina last Sunday and scored two third period goals to force overtime in Thursday's loss.
"Those are things we have to do," Tavares said of the shootout win. "We've done that on the road really well, when things haven't gone our way. If the bounce doesn't go our way, we've been able to create some momentum back our way. And we did that today."
NOTES: The Senators scratched goalie Craig Anderson, center Derek Grant and defenseman Mike Lundin while the Islanders scratched center Keith Aucoin, winger Eric Boulton and defenseman Radek Martinek. ... Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of the Islanders retiring Mike Bossy's no. 22. Bossy, who was one of the core players that led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s, is currently the Islanders' vice president of corporate partnerships. ... Rick DiPietro, whom the Islanders assigned to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport after he cleared waivers last weekend, earned his first win with the Sound Tigers in a 3-2 victory Saturday night. The night before, he was pulled after allowing five goals in the first period. ... Entering Sunday, the only NHL teams with fewer road wins than the Senators were the Rangers, Avalanche and Blue Jackets (two apiece). ... The Senators' current five-game road trip is only their second-longest of the year. They embark upon a seven-game, 13-day road trip on April 2.
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