John Tavares' hat trick highlights Islanders' offensive explosion in 7-3 win
Again Monday night, the Islanders had a split personality. And so did the Islanders.
Befuddled and a step slow for one period, decisive and vigorous most of the next two. Down by two goals, up by one. Tied. Then up by one, by two, by three, by four.
Which were those guys?
On their way to a 7-3 victory over the Dallas Stars, their first home regulation win since Nov. 12, the Islanders cycled through their disparate identities: hapless to fiery to exasperated to triumphant. In their ongoing scramble to gain traction in an often eroding 15-22-7 season, their serial reinventions have become all the more maddening. It was the third time in the last five games that the Islanders won after trailing by at least two goals.
"With where we are in the standings, you can't just keep saying it's going to come, it's going to come," said Thomas Vanek, who extended his career-high point streak to nine games with two assists -- one a suitable-for-framing between-the-legs beauty to John Tavares for the first of Tavares' three goals.
"Pretty soon," Vanek warned, "you're going to run out of time. We're going to have to make our push here soon."
From the drip-drip-drip of inconsistency, there is the occasional anvil dropped on their heads, such as when the game began with a quick Dallas goal on an Islander giveaway, and goalie Evgeni Nabokov's first-period exit with an apparent hip injury.
Nabokov, since his return from a groin injury on Dec. 14, has been a primary factor in the team's modest resurgence. Monday night was his 10th start in the last 11 games. A minute after he replaced Nabokov, understudy Kevin Poulin was beaten by Erik Cole's screened shot, but he finished with 13 saves on 15 shots for the victory.
"A little surprised," Poulin said of being pressed into duty. "But when you gotta go, you gotta go. I tried not to think about that goal too long."
What appeared to be the Islanders again running aground because of the very sins against which Jack Capuano had warned after Saturday's 3-2 loss to Carolina -- the imperative of puck management and speed -- just as suddenly was reversed.
Rookie Ryan Strome batted in a rebound of Vanek's shot just 1:41 into the second for his first goal. Vanek, flying to the net, flicked a back pass between his legs to Tavares waiting on the doorstep for a goal at 7:29.
Two minutes later, Josh Bailey, back in the lineup after missing four games with a shoulder injury, slipped a pass to Peter Regin, alone at the left post, and Regin had his first goal since Oct. 8. So: 3-2, Islanders.
"Poulie came in cold there," Tavares said, "but it was great intensity and pace we came up with to start the second period. It's something to build on. But we can't dwell on this."
Valeri Nichushkin tied it at 15:28 of the second with a power-play rebound, but the Islanders regained the lead with 27.5 seconds to play in the period on Brock Nelson's rush and wrist shot.
Then, almost effortlessly, the Islanders pulled away in the third. Brian Strait converted Tavares' feed after Tavares danced around Cole at the blue line. Tavares single-handedly beat Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen, stickhandling into the crease and sneaking the puck past Lehtonen's left foot.
With 3:07 to play, Tavares scored his 20th goal with a straightaway power-play blast.