For all the complaints Jack Capuano gets about the lack of scoring by anyone other than John Tavares and his linemates, the onus is still on No. 91 to score the big goals.
Thursday, he pulled a very big goal out of his deep bag of tricks. Tavares breezed down the right wing, went around Chris Butler, pulled the puck to his forehand and jammed it past Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff at 3:20 of the third period. That goal broke a 1-1 tie and sent the Islanders on to a 3-1 win, snapping a three-game losing streak.
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Evgeni Nabokov played his best game as an Islander, making 29 saves, including a few as the Flames turned up the pressure in the third.
Brian Rolston scored into an empty net with 43 seconds left to secure a win that was built on the shoulders of Tavares.
"When your best player is your best player in a game, you've got a good chance to win. And '91' was real strong tonight," Capuano said. "He hasn't been scoring as much of late, but the chances are there, and he buried one tonight."
There were some hairy moments in the final 10 minutes. The Islanders got a bad break on a questionable high-sticking call by referee Kyle Rehman on Michael Grabner, who didn't appear to get his stick anywhere near Cory Sarich's face with 7:09 left in the third.
The good break came during that Flames' power play, when Andrew MacDonald's clearing attempt appeared to hit Travis Hamonic's stick and go over the glass, which should draw a delay-of-game minor and would have put the Isles down two men.
Tavares had already been the most dominant player for either side through two periods, controlling the puck below the goal line to create a scoring chance every time he took a shift. With Kyle Okposo on his right side instead of P.A. Parenteau, Tavares had a big body to draw traffic away and used his space well to do everything but score.
Tavares' work behind the net with a makeshift line got the Islanders even at 3:04 of the second. He had the puck and kept Jay Bouwmeester at bay long enough to create some traffic to Kiprusoff's right. Parenteau swooped in, grabbed a loose puck and fed MacDonald. MacDonald's shot beat Kiprusoff to tie the game at 1-1. That goal ended a 93:34 scoreless streak.
The Islanders controlled the second period, the Tavares line leading the way in grinding out puck battles below the hash marks. The Marty Reasoner-Nino Niederreiter-Tim Wallace line did some of the same work.
But for all their grit, it was still a 1-1 game after two. It was 1-0 Flames after the first as the Isles managed to give up a goal on the first shot they faced for the eighth time this season. This one was a harmless seeming toss in front by Tom Kostopoulos that first hit MacDonald's skate, then former Islander Tim Jackman's, and slipped by Nabokov at 1:11.
But this night belonged to Tavares, who led the way in playing the gritty style Capuano wants and mixed in his elite skill to push the Isles over the top.
"I should have had another one at least," Tavares said. "I definitely have to be doing it more often. That was a big time in the game and it feels good to contribute."