John Tavares and his linemates, Matt Moulson and PA Parenteau, weren't exactly waiting to break out. They'd been working the first two games, but perhaps also had been guilty of trying to do too much.
With the benefit of a good break to start them off Thursday night, the Islanders' top line did indeed break out, chasing former teammate Dwayne Roloson from the Lightning net in a 5-1 thumping at Nassau Coliseum, the Isles' second straight win.
It was the first to feature the Islanders' top-end talent, though.
Tavares had two goals and two assists in the first period and Moulson and Parenteau had the other goals in that dominant opening 20 minutes.
"Sometimes when you have that confidence going as a line, it almost seems like there's no reaction time for them," Moulson said. "We were on them early with the puck, we had guys supporting each other and we got a couple greasy ones, a couple on nice plays."
Given time and space by a very passive Tampa defense, Tavares and his line took advantage early and often. He got his first goal of the season on a gift, as his snap shot caromed off Roloson's glove and was accidentally swept into the goal by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who tried to glove the puck and toss it out of harm's way 36 seconds in.
"We played a pretty simple game, and we got that lucky break to start," Tavares said, "but we worked hard and got rewarded for it."
Tampa has a pretty vaunted attack of its own, and the Lightning struck back on Steven Stamkos' deflection 7:10 in. Kyle Okposo whiffed on a clearing attempt and Stamkos neatly tipped Marc-Andre Bergeron's shot behind Al Montoya, who again was excellent and stopped 34 of 35 shots.
The Isles answered right back. Parenteau, who has been up and down and around the ice the last two games, circled untouched in the Tampa zone and fed Mark Eaton, who hit the post. Moulson snapped in the rebound and the Isles had the lead back just 2:18 after losing it.
Tavares followed with his second goal, a slam-dunk off a great pass from Moulson at 15:15. Then Tavares gave up a chance at a hat trick and flipped a pretty pass to Parenteau, who tucked his first into a yawning net with 1:21 left in the first.
Roloson, who was dealt away on New Year's Day and helped the Lightning to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, was chased after Michael Grabner batted in a rebound of Okposo's odd-man-rush shot.
Roloson was not good, but he was hardly to blame as his Lightning teammates gave the Isles free reign to rush the zone and create chances. Roloson did not leave the Isles on great terms, with several players feeling the goaltender was not a good teammate before he was dealt. "So happy [we chased him]," Parenteau said. "You can write that one down."
Tavares did have a scary moment when Hedman tossed him into the boards and Tavares landed awkwardly. The two tussled a bit in the third period and Tavares left the game early with a quadriceps cramp, but he said he was fine after the game.
"Johnny puts a lot of pressure on himself," Jack Capuano said. "Tonight he played relaxed, did all the little things and he was the best player on the ice."