John Tavares and the Islanders had been foiled and frustrated by the Devils a couple of times this season. But Tavares, now in his fourth season, is a hard player to keep down for long.
Which means the Islanders are a hard team to keep down for long.
Tavares stole the show Saturday night at the Coliseum, recording his fourth career hat trick plus an assist in a 5-1 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Devils.
After losing five straight, the Islanders have bounced back with wins over their two local rivals, the Rangers and the Devils. Saturday night's win was spurred by three goals in a 2:20 span late in the second period that broke a scoreless tie.
"We did a good job sticking with it again," said Tavares, who is tied for the NHL lead with 11 goals in 14 games. "Their goalie made some great saves early and maybe it seemed a little slow at times, but we stressed trying to make them open things up a bit and we capitalized."
The key, after nearly 37 scoreless minutes -- not quite a carbon copy of the Devils' last visit two weeks ago, when New Jersey broke open a scoreless tie with three goals late in the third -- was that the Islanders continued to put pucks on Johan Hedberg, who had that Super Bowl Sunday shutout.
Hedberg had denied Brad Boyes barely over a minute into the game, kicked out his right pad to stop Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey, and got some help from the crossbar on David Ullstrom's penalty shot at 16:45 of the first.
Evgeni Nabokov (30 saves) was Hedberg's equal through those 37 minutes, though, and the Islanders were doing plenty of detail work.
But rebounds and Tavares' nose for the net broke the dam. Boyes threw a shot on net on a three-on-two, Hedberg flashed the right pad and Tavares was there for the rebound at 16:46 of the second for a 1-0 lead.
The Islanders scored again 1:23 later on the power play. Moulson swept a sharp-angle shot that Hedberg stopped but didn't control, and Tavares -- charging off the side wall -- swept in the rebound for his second two-goal game against the Devils this season.
And then, 57 seconds later and again on the power play, the Islanders made it 3-0. Boyes fed Moulson alone in front after seemingly the entire Devils penalty kill tilted toward Tavares in the corner.
The result: Three goals in 140 seconds and a thunderous ovation from the Coliseum crowd, one-third of which was Devils fans.
"He challenges well, so you've got to get guys to the net when he's doing that," said Moulson, who assisted on all three Tavares goals in addition to scoring his seventh goal.
After some hairy moments in the third -- especially when Marek Zidlicky cut the Islanders' lead to 3-1 with a power-play goal at 8:47 and the Isles had to kill another penalty with 8:53 to go -- the Isles went on another power play and Tavares got creative for the hat trick.
As a two-man advantage ended, Tavares snapped a pinpoint shot over Hedberg's shoulder at 14:45, bringing the hats down from the crowd.
Grabner scored his sixth goal of the season with 35 seconds remaining.
"A lot of them weren't pretty tonight -- well, Johnny's last one was," said Bailey, who threw his body around well. "It was good to see us getting some bounces, some reward for working hard."