John Tavares scored a natural hat trick in the second period to lead the New York Islanders to a 5-3 win over the visiting Buffalo Sabres Saturday night.
Blake Comeau and Michael Grabner also scored for the Isles while Rick DiPietro made 40 saves in his first game back from his latest trip to the injury list. Matt Moulson had three assists for the Isles while P.A. Parenteau added two helpers. Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis and Jochen Hecht scored for the Sabres.
The first period ended scoreless, but both teams had several good scoring chances. Both DiPietro and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller played well. Tavares had the best chance to score when he came in on a 2-on-0 breakaway with P.A. Parenteau but Miller was able to make a diving save to preserve the scoreless tie.
“I was almost laughing at myself,” Tavares said. “First I thought it went in and it snuck under him, but he made a good read there and, of course, those are ones you’d like to have for sure. I just stuck with it and stayed positive and kept working for more chances. Moulson and P.A. made great passes all night, they really gave me great opportunities and I was lucky enough to finish them off.”
The Sabres broke out on top just 17 seconds into the second period when they converted a 5-on-3 power play chance. Vanek got the goal by redirecting a shot by Ennis past DiPietro.
It was then that Tavares took control of the game scoring three goals in a span of 5:35. Two goals came at even strength sandwiched around a power play tally. The goals came in a variety of ways. The first score came on a high wrist shot from just outside the crease; the second goal came on a backhander while the third tally was a rebound put home from in close.
For Tavares, it was special getting three against Miller, who started in goal for the US Olympic Team a year ago. “He’s one of the best in the league and one of the best in the world,” Tavares said. “He’s a hell of a goalie. I thought I could’ve had a few more. He stopped me on a few that I probably should’ve had, including that 2-on-0, but I was lucky enough to get those three in a row. It really gave us momentum for the game.”
Isles Coach Jack Capuano was pleased with the play of last year’s first overall pick. “It’s a special game for him,” Capuano said. “You get three, and he had a chance at the end with the empty net to get four. He worked extremely hard tonight. His goals, obviously on the power play, but he played very sound defensively that led to a lot of chances offensively.”
The Isles lead was increased to 4-1 with 4:35 left in the second period on Comeau’s 13th goal of the season which was set up by a pretty feed by Josh Bailey. Bailey found Comeau in the slot and he beat Miller for give the Isles a three-goal advantage after two periods.
The Sabres took control of play in the third period and pulled to within two goals when Ennis scored on the power play at the 5:55 mark but DiPietro made 13 saves in the period. Grabner converted a shorthanded chance for his 10th goal of the year to put the icing on the cake with 3:08 remaining. Hecht closed out the scoring with 1:45 left but DiPietro shut the door to preserve the win.
To a man, the Isles were pleased to have DiPietro back between the pipes. It was DP’s first action since January 3 in Calgary. “Ricky stood on his head,” Blake Comeau explained. “He gives us a chance to win every night. He’s a big part of this team. Even in the locker room he’s one of the leaders. He’s been around for a while. He’s a guy that we like to see healthy and in the lineup.”
The Isles return to action Monday afternoon when they host a holiday matinee against the New Jersey Devils.
Dylan Reese and Nathan Lawson were the Isles scratches while Chris Butler, Patrick Kaleta and Craig Rivet sat out for Buffalo.
The Islanders were dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 64 percent of the draws. The domination was consistent as all four Isles centers (Tavares, Konopka, Schremp and Colliton) finished with better than 60 percent on faceoffs for the game.