By the sum of play for 60 minutes -- or 63, in this case -- the Isles deserved two points to get them back into sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. But they repeated a few recent hiccups that made it a tough pair to get.
The Islanders had good first and third periods, but had to overcome an uninspiring second and a puckhandling mistake by Jaroslav Halak in the third that nearly squandered the evening.
Fortunately, Tavares was having none of that, as the "visiting" fans were all too happy to witness.
The Tavares Rescue
In a carbon copy of his gaffe that put the Isles behind in Edmonton, Halak let himself get stripped of the puck behind his net, creating an easy open net goal and 2-1 lead for the Devils seven minutes into the third period. This time the beneficiary was Scott Gomez, and it came at a bad time.
The Isles had just recovered from a lethargic second period by tying it up at 1-1 on Josh Bailey's deflection goal just 1:02 into the third. They'd continued to wrest back control of play for the next six minutes before Halak's gift to Gomez.
Once is understandable, a "hey, those things happen" thing. Twice in one week is perplexing, downright aggravating. (Though to be fair, as Jack Capuano said in the post-game, it was part communication from his D, part decelerating puck by the trapezoid, too. But Halak had inches to spare there at the end of the trapezoid, and he didn't use them.)
Thankfully, the Isles drew a dicey call on Dainius Zubrus five minutes later, and though they wasted most of that ensuing power play, Tavares banked a shot in off Keith Kinkaid's skate after the penalty expired. May have been frustration and an errant pass, or may have been brilliance from Tavares. Either way, it was an awful break for Kinkaid, who had been good all night and certainly helped frustrate the Isles even when they were getting the better of play.
Then came the overtime magic.
The OT Winner
After a well-paced dump-in by Calvin de Haan, Tavares saw Adam Larsson getting casual with the puck behind the Devils net and turned on the jets to pop Larsson's stick. He then put a shoulder into Larsson to both win possession and peel away from the corner freely. Just realizing the trouble Larsson had invited, Adam Henrique was half trying to block a pass and half trying to angle Tavares away from the slot.
Tavares pivoted inside of Henrique, pulled back to the forehand in the low slot, and beat Kinkaid, who might've been more patient if it weren't John freaking Tavares all alone:
The Isles had taken both points, and their captain had rescued them.
(I guess this is what impatient fans imagine when they say "Tavares needs to take over a game"? Like, as if this is an easy thing to do in the NHL on any night just because? No, this is art amid adversity. It cannot be mass produced nor generated on command.)
Tavares: "I don’t think we put our heads down. I think we overcome whatever we face like we have all year, whatever the challenge." #Isles
— Stephen (@StephenCLorenzo) January 10, 2015
How They Got There
It seemed like it might be one of those nerve-wracking nights after the Isles had more shots, more attempts, and more energy in the first period but reached the first intermission scoreless. They didn't quite continue that energy into the second, and a tough break and beautiful play by the Devils let them strike first.
Already hemmed in, Kyle Okposo's stick broke on what would've been a clear, which led to a golden give-and-go down low between Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias, finished by Zajac. It was a perfectly placed shot far post and through Calvin de Haan. Halak, who was good at the whole stopping pucks thing all night, didn't have a clear view of it.
(Zajac could've had another goal earlier off an Isles bad change. Halak stopped an initial shot, but Zajac got to the rebound, which was also stopped. Halak eventually slid into the net with the puck releasing behind him, though the refs had blown the whistle and ruled it was from Zajac pushing into him.)
Soon afterward, Matt Martin fought Mark Fraser. Wasn't clear who started it, as they were both posturing and jawing at each other before the faceoff, and apparently even "planted the seeds" during warmups. It was a fight filled with little jabs by the sweater-grabbing hand and wild swings by the haymaker hand, but no apparent damage done.
That power play was cut off 1:15 early, however, when Peter Harrold stumbled over his own stick and yet John Tavares was sent off for "tripping" him. That was the second absurd call of the night: Earlier Travis Hamonic was also whistled for "tripping" after leaning inconsiderately hard on Jaromir Jagr.
But a minute later Jagr was called for holding and hooking Bailey in front of the Devils net, so the whole sequence was a wash, but set the stage for the Isles needing a goal to tie in the third.
Turns out they'd need two tying goals in the third. And one gem of a tally in OT.
Yes, Yes, Why Yes, Indeed
I like you. Do you like me?
Tavares said he saw the #Isles fans after game-winner and thought of the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant. That was totally intentional.
— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) January 10, 2015
Casualty and Notes: Grabovski Leaves Game
- Mikhail Grabovski's time on the first line didn't last long. He took a shot off the foot in the first period that sent him to the locker room. Though he returned for the second period, he only lasted half of that frame before going to the locker room again, this time for the night with the ol' "lower body" injury.
- Bailey replaced Grabovski on the first line, where he got the goal and the drawn penalty. He was just leaving the ice for a change with Ryan Strome on Tavares's 4-on-4 OT goal.
- The Isles were good at the faceoff dot again, winning 60 percent.
- Shots on goal overall were 31-23, but just 23-19 at even strength. Kinkaid stopped six shots from the Isles PP, and was good at swallowing his rebounds. (So was Halak, incidentally. It's just that puckhandling thing...)
- In case you're the panicking, "how could they lose TWO in a row?" sort, the Islanders are in first place in their division exactly halfway through the season.
- Alert: There will be a second half, too.
- Tip sheet: They have been one of the league's top teams by every measure (points, goals, wins, the Corsi and the Fenwick and the scoring chances) except special teams.
Off to Columbus
The Islanders play another Metro opponent tomorrow night, when they meet the Blue Jackets in Columbus. The CBJ will be flying back from Toronto, where they lost to the Leafs in Peter Horachek's first win as coach.