On Monday night, New York Islanders captain John Tavares led his team to their most impressive victory of the 2013-2014 season. Tavares scored a hat trick and led his team on the ice with three goals and two assists for five points and a plus-three rating, defeating the visiting Dallas Stars 7-3 after coming back from a 2-0 deficit after the first period at Nassau Veteran‘s Memorial Coliseum.
The game started off very rough for the Islanders. First, Isles defenseman Matt Donovan looked to pass the puck from deep in the zone along the boards to Frans Nielsen in the slot area, but Dallas forward Jamie Benn picked off the pass at the hash marks. Benn then roofed the puck top shelf over Evgeni Nabokov, stick side for the early 1-0 lead at 5:01 in the first, much to the dismay of Donovan, who was appearing in his first game since Nov. 27 against Winnipeg.
Eight minutes later, Nabokov went down with a lower body injury during game play. Nabokov attempted to stay in the game after the Islanders athletic trainer assessed him but ultimately skated off the ice after the next break in play, and Kevin Poulin came in off the bench in relief.
Less than a minute after Kevin Poulin came in the game, Dallas’ Erik Cole got the puck at the blue line off a won faceoff by teammate Rich Peverly in the Islanders’ zone. Cole circled and released a wrist shot, which sneaked through traffic and past Poulin for the 2-0 lead, ending the first period.
After a short intermission, the second period began and the Islanders came out onto the ice looking like a completely different team. Shortly into the period Stars winger Antoine Roussel was called for a crosschecking penalty on Casey Cizikas. On the subsequent power play, Tavares passed the puck from behind the Dallas net to Thomas Vanek in the slot, and Vanek shot the puck but Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen made the save. The resulting rebound from the shot caromed to Islanders rookie center Ryan Strome, who buried it past a diving Lehtonen at the 1:41 mark. Strome fist pumped his way to the top of the left face off circle where an elated Islanders power play unit mobbed him, congratulating the rookie on his first career NHL goal.
Strome’s goal and the Islanders’ early power play success sparked the offense. Later in the period, Tavares scored his first goal of the night after back checking and stealing the puck from Peverly. Vanek picked up the puck, drew the two defenders and passed the puck to Tavares through his legs across the crease, where Tavares would tie the game, 2-2, at 7:29.
Two minutes later, Isles winger Josh Bailey would find his way back to the point sheet in his first game back since Dec. 28. After getting the puck in the Dallas zone, Bailey shot the puck but was blocked by Kevin Connauton. However, Bailey recovered the puck and continued to rotate to the side of the net, before passing to the front of the net and finding Peter Regin, who scored his second goal of the year — the first was on Oct. 8 against Phoenix — and giving the Islanders the 3-2 lead at 9:29.
After a controversial holding penalty to Cizikas, Dallas went onto the power play. Ray Whitney handled the puck along the boards in the Islanders zone looking for a pass and found Peverly at the side of the net. Peverly took the pass and drove to the front of Poulin and shot the puck, Poulin made the stop but the rebound escaped to the slot for an easy goal for 18-year-old Valeri Nichushkin, once again tying the game at 3-3 at 15:28.
Four minutes later, a stick check by Calvin de Haan against rushing Dallas center Vernon Fiddler, causing a turnover in the neutral zone. After recovering the loose puck, Brock Nelson rushed into the Dallas zone and split two Dallas defenders, releasing the puck in the slot on the breakaway and beating Lehtonen for the fourth Islanders goal of the period and for the 4-3 lead.
Islanders fans in the crowd should have been happy knowing that Nelson’s goal would be the eventual game-winning goal, but they wanted more offense, and in the third period, it would come from Tavares. Tavares would assist on the next goal scored by defenseman Brian Strait, as well as get the final two goals of the game, causing hats to rain down to the ice after his third goal.
The final score was Islanders 7, Stars 3.
The Islanders move to 15-22-7 and travel to Toronto to play the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.
The Stars move to 20-15-7 and continue their road trip against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on Thursday.
Three Stars of the Game
1) John Tavares
2) Ryan Strome
3) Thomas Vanek
Kevin Poulin in relief of Evgeni Nabokov