John Tavares' will to succeed is unequaled on these Islanders. He basically willed the puck over the goal line in overtime Saturday night, batting a rebound barely past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward to give the Isles a much-needed bonus point in a 2-1 win.
Had Carolina grabbed the extra point, the Isles would have found themselves back in last in the Eastern Conference, at the bottom of a tight bunch of five teams fighting to get back in the race.
Instead, with Tavares' second goal of the night and 19th of the season, the Islanders have won three straight for the third time this year and remained within 10 points of eighth-place Florida.
"Every game we play right now is huge," said Tavares, who has eight goals and 13 assists during a 12-game point streak that is his career best. "We still believe in here and we're really coming together."
That wasn't quite the case in the opening 20 minutes Saturday night. On the heels of two of their best wins of the season in Washington and Philadelphia, the Isles "couldn't have been any worse" in the first period, according to coach Jack Capuano. The Hurricanes, who shut out the Caps on Friday in Raleigh, came flying out of the gate and had the Islanders committing turnovers and leaving players open in their own zone early and often.
"It could have been 2-0 or 3-0 real easy," Capuano said. "We did some things we break down on video [not to do] all the time. We were real lucky."
His players responded in the second, peppering Ward with 23 shots and breaking through when Tavares pounced on a loose puck after Mark Streit's point shot snapped Kyle Okposo's stick in front and dropped to the open side.
The Tavares-Okposo-Matt Moulson line hit its usual stride in the second, with Moulson looking skyward three different times after good chances in the slot that he normally buries.
"They could have had three or four goals in the second, they were just buzzing around and creating chances," Nabokov said.
A tentative third period allowed both teams to grab a point, the last thing the Islanders wanted with an opponent tied with them at the start of play. One last shift for Tavares and P.A. Parenteau in OT opened the door.
Travis Hamonic's shot deflected wide, but Tavares beat Eric Staal to the slot just as Parenteau flipped a backhand in front, Ward stopped Tavares' first shot, but the waist-high rebound caromed off Tavares' stick, over Ward's arm and into the net before the Hurricanes' defensemen got to it.
"The way he's skating, protecting the puck, his vision and his creativity -- it's the best I've seen from him so far," Capuano said.
The team was not at their best. But Tavares' best still made it work.
"I'm just trying to stick with it and keep working hard," said Tavares, who has two games with his hometown Leafs before his first All-Star trip next weekend. "I'm trying to win all my battles. I know if I get that foot of room, or that extra half-second, I can make something happen."