John Tavares hits game-winner in Islanders' shootout win over Senators
It took John Tavares, rising from his sickbed Sunday to produce the deciding score in a shootout, for the Islanders to shake this recent feeling that they have angered the hockey gods.
Ill throughout Friday and Saturday and an iffy participant Sunday, Tavares executed a dipsy-do move worthy of trademark consideration to conclude the day's drama for a badly needed 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators, vanquishing the specter of a fourth straight loss at Nassau Coliseum.
"Elite players, that's what they do," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Johnny wasn't feeling very well, but he's trying to put the team on his back, trying to help the team in those situations."
Brad Boyes, whose more conventional goal 7:48 into the day's proceedings provided a 1-0 lead but was ancient history by the time Tavares rescued his mates, described Tavares' winner as "just nice, very nice. Some guys can do it, some guys can't. Depends who you are. For some guys, it's a lot easier, and Johnny made it look easy."
Tavares pulled third-string goalie Robin Lehner to Lehner's stick side and sneaked the puck past his toe.
"Just tried to sell the shot so I could go back to my backhand," said Tavares, who admitted to fatigue and hunger after barely eating for two days. "If I could sell that shot, I'd try to go there, and if he didn't go for it, I'd go for the blocker side."
Frans Nielsen, who is the most efficient shootout scorer in league history among players with at least 13 attempts -- now 25-for-40 in his career -- had beaten Lehner to open the shootout.
"See, sometimes my job is not that complicated," Nabokov said of keeping Ottawa at bay with four saves in overtime for a total of 29, as well as the two shootout stops. "They shoot, I have to make the save."
But before all that last-minute excitement, there was the all-too-familiar Islanders frustration of twice losing leads, both times on what could have been interpreted as fated bad bounces.
The second of those, Patrick Wiercioch's blue-line shot that ticked off an Islander's stick and past Nabokov, came with 69 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 2.
Michael Grabner had pounced on a loose puck near the Ottawa blue line and, steaming down the slot, beaten Lehner for a 2-1 lead with 3:39 left in regulation. The apparent game-winner, until Wiercioch's last-minute score, reminded everyone that home is where the hurt is for the Islanders this season.
The 0-2-1 start to a seven-game homestand shadowed the entire afternoon -- bad Coliseum vibes that hinted it might be time for the team to wear its road white sweaters at home, where the Islanders are 3-8-1, as opposed to an away record of 6-3-1.
"We're not talking about that anymore," Capuano said. "Our home record, how we've played. We're not talking about it anymore. We've got no distractions anymore. We've got to get it out of our minds."