John Tavares played through some pain in his right hip Thursday. When the game was over, he was feeling a different kind of sting.
"That's two points we're going to be kicking ourselves about," Tavares said after his Islanders coughed up a two-goal lead through two periods and lost, 3-2, to the Kings on Tyler Toffoli's deflection past Kevin Poulin with 1:33 to play. "We've got to get the message through our heads of how we have to play against good teams. We played pretty well until the third, then it seemed like every part of our game let down."
The Isles' youth shone through in a strong second period, with Casey Cizikas scoring his first of the season and Aaron Ness scoring his first NHL goal, on a setup from Tavares, just 2:01 later.
Poulin carried a shutout into the third period for the second straight game, then preserved it with two gems in the opening 66 seconds of the period, stopping Mike Richards on a shorthanded breakaway and snaring Jake Muzzin's wrist shot.
But Slava Voynov's rocket from the left faceoff dot sneaked through Poulin at 5:34 of the third and the Kings, who had carried much of the play in a scoreless first, sensed an opening.
The Isles scrambled to hold their lead, but rookie Tanner Pearson sneaked a shot between Poulin's pads and barely over the goal line with 7:45 left in the third, a power-play goal; the Isles had started the third period with a power play and did nothing with it.
"It hit something in front of me, and I felt it," Poulin said. "It went over by an inch."
The Islanders had a couple of dandy chances to steal the game back inside of two minutes, but Michael Grabner fired a wrist shot just wide and Tavares missed the net on the rush a few seconds later. Tavares had no shots on goal for the first time in 69 games.
Off that miss, the Kings rushed the other way. Muzzin got the puck at the point and Toffoli deflected his shot up and over Poulin for the Isles' third loss in seven games (4-2-1) when leading after two periods.
With Poulin pulled, the Isles had the play in the Kings zone for the final minute but could not get the equalizer.
"It's an eye-opener for us," Cizikas said. "We did all the right things for two periods. It came down to playing hard in our own zone, getting pucks out, getting pucks deep. We stopped taking it to them and you see what happens when you do that against good teams."
The Islanders believe they are as good as anyone when they play the way they did in the middle period. But sitting at 7-10-3 through a quarter of the season doesn't bear that feeling out.
"We've got to be confident,"
Tavares said. "We've got to play and make plays and keep doing it no matter what the situation."