It was a benchmark night for Islanders forward John Tavares, who scored a natural hat trick and gave the Islanders the momentum they needed to beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
“It’s a special game for him,” interim head coach Jack Capuano said about Tavares. “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 win wouldn’t have been possible without a great performance by goaltender Rick DiPietro, who played in his first game back since enduring a groin injury on January 3. He especially played well in the final 20 minutes, when the Sabres stepped up their play. In total, DiPietro stopped a total of 40 shots.
“He played awesome,” Comeau said. “When you give up that many shots, and Ricky stood on his head like he did, 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.”
But after a scoreless first period, the Islanders would begin the second period on the penalty kill as Milan Jurcina (tripping) and Radek Martinek (high-sticking) took penalties with seconds remaining in the first. Down two men, Tomas Vanek scored a power play goal just 17 seconds into the second to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
It was the Islanders youngest player who stepped up his game and came through with three goals in 5:54, to propel the Islanders to a 3-1 lead. Tavares was extremely happy to be able to score three straight against Ryan Miller.
“He’s one of the best (goaltenders) 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.”
For his first goal, PA Parenteau passed from behind the goal to Tavares in the slot. He scored with a wrist shot, which rang off the crossbar and into the net at 7:50. Then at 10:34, Matt Moulson took a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle and Tavares deflected it, regained his own rebound to move to the right of Miller and backhand a shot into the back of the net. After a flood of action in front of Miller, Tavares’ scored his third goal at 13:36, when he stuffed Parenteau’s rebound through the lower left corner of the net.
Goaltender Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres blocks a shot by John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders on January 15, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
But Tavares couldn’t have had the game he had without the help of his linemates, Moulson and Parenteau and defenseman Andrew MacDonald who all took home two assists.
“We love scoring goals and getting hat tricks, it’s always something to cherish,” Moulson said. “PA made some great passes out there and things just seemed to be clicking for us. He made some great plays around the net for those goals, so it was good to see him get it.”
All of those goals came after Parenteau and Tavares had a 2-on-0 opportunity in the first period and after a give-and-go, Ryan Miller was positionally sound to stop Tavares’ shot to the lower right corner.
“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. Mouly (Moulson) and PA made great passes all night, they really gave me great opportunities and I was lucky enough to finish them off.”
Before the second period was over, Miller came out beyond the crease and Josh Bailey found Blake Comeau in the slot to score at 15:25 and bring the score 4-1.
“Josh (Bailey) made a great play tonight and I got a lucky bounce,” Comeau said. “I feel like we’re doing some good things. There are some things we want to improve on, but I think that’s all of us just being competitive and not being satisfied with our game. We want to be a line that can contribute on a nightly basis.”
In the final 20 minutes, the Islanders came out a bit flat and Tyler Ennis was able to capitalize with a power play goal at 5:55. Even though the Islanders only took four shots on net in the third, Michael Grabner scored a shorthanded goal at 16:52 to give the Islanders their fifth goal of the night.
With 1:45 left in regulation, Jochen Hecht reduced the score differential for the final time and brought the final score to 5-3.
“I think there were occasions when we made it a little bit harder on ourselves than we needed to, but overall I thought it was a better effort,” DiPietro said about the Islanders overall game. “That’s a hard working team. They’re not going to quit. That reality kind of set in during the beginning of the third – that this team wasn’t going to go away.”
DiPietro continued, “I thought we responded and blocked a lot of shots. I thought our forwards did a really good job closing in the D zone and clearing some pucks for me. That really helps out.”