It was the kind of game the New York Islanders might have let slip away in the past.
Not this time.
Powered by a hat trick from John Tavares, the Islanders chalked up a 5-1 victory on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum over the Eastern Conference defending champion, and current front-runner, New Jersey Devils.
They also notched a win against goaltender Johan Hedberg, who had shut them out just 13 days prior, and scored three times on the power play as they evened their season series with the Devils at two victories apiece.
The Islanders have now won consecutive games against the Devils and the New York Rangers after opening the month with five straight losses.
''Just two games. Don't want to blow it out of proportion,'' said Islanders forward Josh Bailey (h/t the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated). ''Want to keep it rolling.''
It’s a start, with their best player leading the way. Tavares has 11 goals and 20 points in 14 games, and he is tied for the NHL lead in goals. He staked the Islanders to a late 2-0 second-period lead on Saturday night, and then put matters to rest with a score in the final stanza.
Matt Moulson (three assists) and Michael Grabner also scored for the Islanders, while Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves. The only goal he allowed was a power-play tally by Marek Zildicky with 11:13 remaining in regulation, which cut the New York lead to 3-1 and possibly set the stage for a Devils comeback.
Tavares, who also notched an assist on the night, put any notion of that to rest with a power-play goal of his own—a wrist shot from the right circle with 5:15 left.
''Not that I go out there and think about leading the league in goals, but when I get my opportunities, I want to contribute,” admitted Tavares afterward (via Sports Illustrated). “And I know offensively, that's where I contribute the most. Just trying to, when I get my chances, put the puck in.''
The Islanders broke open a scoreless contest with 3:14 left in the second stanza when Tavares put home a cross-ice pass from Brad Boyes. He then batted home a bouncing puck at 18:08, before Boyes centered a pass to Moulson in front for a 3-0 lead at 19:06.
Hedberg finished with 28 stops as the Devils fell to 9-3-3 overall. The Islanders improved to 6-7-1 and will face the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday, while New Jersey will host Ottawa the same day. Both those games will begin at 1:00 p.m. ET.
The Devils and Islanders will meet for a fifth and final time on April 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark.
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