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Tavares making huge strides for Islanders

John Tavares (91) celebrates his goal against the

John Tavares (91) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period. (Feb. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

The Islanders close out their home schedule Thursday night, the second to last of their meaningless games to finish out the season. They'll play the Winnipeg Jets, who also have been eliminated.

However, the game won't be meaningless to the Islanders' best player. John Tavares has faced every opponent's best this season and is still working to the bitter end, which may not have been enough to get this team to the playoffs but holds out some promise that next season could have a different ending.

"That's why he's one of the elite players in the league," Jack Capuano said of Tavares. "He takes a lot of pride in his game and it's important to him to play hard in every single game we play."

Tavares' huge step forward in this, his third season, has been a boon to the Islanders, from the day in September that he signed a six-year, $33-million contract to Thursday night, when he can reach the 80-point mark for the first time in his career and become the first Islander to do so since Ziggy Palffy in 1997-98.

"I do feel like I've taken a lot of strides this year, and I'm happy to see that the things I worked hard on last summer have paid off in some ways," Tavares said. "When this season is over, I'll see some more things I want to improve on and try to get to that next level."

His teammates could take a cue. Tavares and Matt Moulson have had three different linemates this season: P.A. Parenteau, who is enjoying a career year with 67 points and is headed for his first big payday; Kyle Okposo, who had an awful start to the season but gained some confidence in a month on Tavares' wing and has a career-high 21 goals, and Michael Grabner, who only spent a couple of games on Tavares' right and is slogging through a difficult second season.

For the most part, those playing alongside Tavares have flourished. Until it was too late in the season and the Josh Bailey-Frans Nielsen-Okposo line had a strong six-game run, the Islanders had no reliable second line to take the heat off Tavares.

Which is why, despite an All-Star season, this still isn't a successful year for the Isles' 21-year-old star.

"The goal is to make the playoffs," Tavares said. "That's where you get to see yourself against the best, challenge yourself and the team to try and reach your goals. You want to see what that's like. Obviously, we didn't make that happen."

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