SUNRISE, Fla. — John Tavares might remember this Friday night for a while. He recorded his first hat trick in three years, crossed the 500-point plateau and generally did what he usually does in leading the Islanders, this time to a 5-2 win over the Panthers.
But he and his teammates might hope it will be more memorable for the way the Islanders pulled away from a Florida team that clamped down on them two nights earlier in Brooklyn.
On Friday night, the Islanders scored on their first two shots of the game and looked even better in the final 40 minutes. They pumped a season-high 43 shots on Roberto Luongo. Even though they didn’t convert on a two-minute five-on-three in the second period while up by a goal, they didn’t sag afterward and got a huge goal from Nick Leddy 4:36 later.
“It was a good response after Wednesday,” said Tavares, who scored on a wicked wrist shot at 3:48 of the first period for a 2-0 lead and then in close off the rush at 7:50 of the third to push the lead to 4-2.
He capped his sixth career hat trick and first since Jan. 6, 2014, with an empty-netter at 18:16, giving him 14 goals for the season.
Leddy and Josh Bailey added two assists each and Thomas Greiss made 26 saves as the Islanders snapped a three-game losing streak in which they scored a single goal in each loss.
The only downer was the power play, especially that full five-on-three midway through the second. Seth Griffith slashed Adam Pelech behind the Islanders’ net, and as one of the referees blew his whistle to indicate the call, Panthers defenseman Jakub Kindl cross-checked Brock Nelson in the face to induce the second minor.
On that five-on-three, Johnny Boychuk’s blasts broke Panthers sticks on two occasions, essentially making it a five-on-two. But Luongo came up with four good stops and the Isles could not break through with a 2-1 lead.
“We pretty much did everything but score,” Boychuk said. “There were so many great chances. We’re lucky we didn’t need those goals after all.”
As Florida gained momentum from the kill, Greiss stopped four Panthers shots. Then a puck wheeled around the wall sat down for Leddy. He stepped into an unscreened slap shot that rose over Luongo’s shoulder and caromed off the crossbar and in at 16:06 of the second.
The Panthers pulled within a goal 1:42 into the third, but Tavares, after a nifty off-the-wall feed from Bailey, waited out Luongo and two defenders to bury the first of his two in the third.
“I had some good patience on my shots tonight,” Tavares said. “I saw where I wanted to go with them and they worked out. I always want to be counted on to produce at a high level.”
The Islanders went right to Raleigh after the game for another matchup with an Eastern Conference team, the Hurricanes, that sits ahead of the Isles but not in a playoff spot. If this season has any meaning left, these are the games the Isles have to press for and get results.
“I liked our resiliency tonight,” Jack Capuano said. “We’ve been working hard. It was another example of the brotherhood we have in that room, and we got rewarded.”