An extra cross-check here, a whack on the hands there -- being an emerging star in the NHL means extra attention from opponents. John Tavares was certainly reminded of the toll the league takes on a top-20 scorer after Sunday's 1-0 win over the Devils, when his linemates were nursing wounds.
Matt Moulson needed 10 stitches to close a chin gash courtesy of Bryce Salvador's stick, and P.A. Parenteau took a slash on his hand from Ilya Kovalchuk. Both players returned to practice Wednesday after sitting out the day before, and they likely will be back on Tavares' line for Thursday night's rematch in Newark.
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As for Tavares, his 26 goals and 37 assists have come through hard work, on and off the ice.
"You do have to learn how to take care of yourself," Tavares said. "I think all of the work I did last summer to improve my play, doing work on my skating and my strength, that stuff all helps keep you going through a long season."
Thursday night's game begins a stretch of three games in four nights, with the Devils coming to Nassau Coliseum again on Saturday. The Isles visit Madison Square Garden and the East-leading Rangers on Sunday. It's a busy schedule this time of year, and the Islanders need a healthy Tavares as badly as ever as they sit seven points out of the playoffs with five teams ahead of them.
"I just try not to look ahead and think, 'Oh, we've got three in four nights, so I need to plan ahead to stay strong,' " Tavares said. "I just focus on what I have to do today or tonight, then I get to the next day when it comes.
"You can't start thinking about pacing yourself, because you have to give everything you have when the games are this important."
It's not much of a coincidence that Tavares, Moulson and Parenteau have not missed a game this season. Neither has Mark Streit or Frans Nielsen. Kyle Okposo was a healthy scratch for three games but has otherwise been healthy. Having your best players on the ice night after night is the first part of the battle for the playoffs.
The second is being able to produce. Tavares has had that part covered pretty well, too, giving the Islanders at least a shot at ending their four-season playoff drought.