RALEIGH, N.C. -- John Tavares stepped on the ice at 6:55 of the third period. What had been a two-goal Islanders lead entering the third was now tied with the Hurricanes, and Tavares told his linemates they needed to turn the tide.
"I told Matt [Moulson] and Kyle [Okposo] we needed a response," Tavares said. "And there's no better response than scoring a goal."
After a couple of fluky bounces, Tavares, as he's done so often this season, came up clutch. Moulson grabbed the puck below the Carolina goal line after goalie Cam Ward whiffed on making a play, and Moulson's pass to the slot hiccuped past Bryan Allen and right to Tavares, who slammed home the eventual winner in a 5-2 Isles victory.
Even though it was the first game out of the All-Star break, the Islanders needed to get in gear, starting Tuesday night 10 points and four teams back of the top eight in the East. For 43 minutes, they were playing with determination and effort from front to back.
Tavares set up P.A. Parenteau for a power-play goal at 5:49 of the first, Moulson scored off a broken play on the power play late in the second and Kevin Poulin, making a surprise start in goal, stopped all 13 shots through two-plus periods, including an eyepopper of a save on Eric Staal in the closing seconds of the first.
But the little breakdowns and bounces turned against them in a 3:40 span of the third. Moulson blocked Tim Gleason's shot from the point, but the puck caromed right to Brandon Sutter, who cruised down the slot and lifted a backhand past Poulin at 3:15 of the third to make it 2-1.
On their first penalty kill of the game, the Isles got a bit scattered in their own zone and Tim Brent banked a puck off Matt Martin and in at 6:55 to tie the score, bringing the home team and its fans to life. The Hurricanes began the night with 45 points, same as the Islanders, so a regulation win for either team would have been a crushing blow to the loser.
Too bad the Hurricanes don't have Tavares. Fresh off his first All-Star appearance, Tavares scored his sixth winner of the season, then added an assist on Okposo's empty-netter with 1:23 to play and scored his own empty-net goal a minute later for a four-point night.
"We got a couple breaks, and then they got a couple," Moulson said. "The important thing is we kept coming and didn't sit back."
There were some frustrations, as there had been in the final two games before the break against the Leafs, when the Isles had zero power plays in the two games combined.
Tuesday night, all four officials missed Hurricanes rookie Riley Nash playing the puck with a stick above the shoulders before Brent's goal. And with a 3-2 lead in the final two minutes, Carolina had six skaters on the ice in the Islanders' zone for a full five seconds.
But those injustices didn't bother the Islanders this time. They have left themselves almost no margin for error in the final two months of the season and kicked off a difficult task the right way, carried by No. 91.
"It was a great shift," Jack Capuano said of Tavares' eventual winner. "That's what that line's been doing for us. [The Hurricanes] got the momentum and we countered."