After two fluke goals left his team trailing 5-3 in the third period Saturday night, John Tavares did something he has never done before in his professional hockey career. Something he never did once in his prolific four-year junior career, either.
With 5:01 to play, the 20-year-old Tavares returned Thrashers rookie Alexander Burmistrov’s cross-check with a slash to the back and waited for him to turn around. Then he dropped the gloves.
“It’s definitely out of my character,” Tavares told Newsday. “I never fought in junior, let alone at this level, but I’ve definitely been a little frustrated at times. It’s been a tough stretch for everybody and I thought maybe it was a way to get guys going. I just tried to do something different.”
Tavares’ rare scrap—it was Burmistrov’s first career fight as well—served as a clear indication of the Islanders’ rampant frustration. With their 5-4 loss to Atlanta Saturday, the Islanders suffered their 19th loss in the past 20 games.
That frustration reached a new height Saturday night when the Thrashers snapped a 3-3 draw with a logic-defying goal that zipped past goaltender Rick DiPietro from a faceoff between Bryan Little and Frans Nielsen.
Less than three minutes after Little’s game-changer, Burmistrov scored on a lucky deflection off Brent Sopel’s slashot.
“It’s hard to understand, hard to explain. Even Burmistrov's goal, he didn’t even have two hands on his stick. It just hit the shaft and went in. Seeing pucks go in like that the way they are and the ones that aren’t going in for us—it’s tough.”
Once Tavares disentangled from Burmistrov and skated toward the Islanders bench, he received some encouraging words from his teammates.
“Everyone just said, ‘Good job’ and was real supportive,” Tavares said.
Tavares said he was simply continuing what his teammates had begun earlier in the game—sticking up for one another. At 3:34 in the third period, PA Parenteau drew a roughing penalty after pouncing on Sopel for blind-siding Tavares.
“We’ve got a great bunch of guys and the way things are going is unacceptable. Seeing PA (Parenteau) and Moulson jumping after [Sopel] speaks about the way we feel about each other and that we really do want to get out of this any way possible.”