With a wide-open 2-on-0 rush and a prime opportunity to snap a scoreless draw with the puck on his stick at 13:26 in the first, John Tavares did the inexplicable, dishing off to linemate P.A. Parenteau.
Parenteau quickly fed back to Tavares, but Tavares was stuffed at the near post by Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.
Tavares didn’t make the same mistake twice.
The 20-year-old center showed ruthless precision following that bungled scoring chance by rattling off three straight goals against Miller in the second period for his second hat trick this season to lift the Islanders to a 5-3 win over Buffalo last night.
“It was great,” Tavares said. “He’s a hell of a goalie. I was lucky to get those three in a row… it really changed the momentum of the game.”
This one was much sweeter than the last, however. Tavares’ first career hat trick was wasted in the Islanders 4-3 loss to the Panthers on October 23, the game that began the team’s dreadful 12-game winless streak.
“I just stuck with it, stayed positive, and [P.A.] Parenteau and [Matt] Moulson made good passes all night. They gave me good opportunities and I was lucky enough to be able to finish them off.”
After the Islanders surrendered a 5-on-3 power-play goal to Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek 17 seconds into the second period, Tavares roofed one from the slot at 7:50 of the second to tie the game.
But he was not content to stop there.
The 20-year-old center tallied again in the second, deftly scooping up Moulson’s rebound and backhanding the puck past Miller for a power-play goal and a 2-1 lead at 10:34.
He then stabbed a loose puck through at 13:36 for his third goal in a matter of 5 minutes and 46 seconds.
In doing so, he became the first Islander to score a natural hat trick since Matt Moulson, who notched three straight December 3 in Atlanta.
With his trio of second-period markers, Tavares leads the team with 18 goals.
“That was a big game for Johnny,” said goaltender Rick DiPietro.
Although the Islanders gave up two goals in the third, DiPietro made 40 saves in his first start since suffering a groin strain in last Monday’s game against Calgary,
The 29-year-old netminder missed five straight games with the injury, causing the Islanders to rely on the rookie tandem of Kevin Poulin and Nathan Lawson.
“He played unbelievable,” said Moulson who finished with three assists. “He made some great saves and he had to make a lot of them. It’s great to have him back.”
Said DiPietro about his return:
“I felt good. It was a good test, a good challenge and I’m happy to get the win obviously.”
Blake Comeau also extended his hot streak, potting his fifth goal in six games at 15:25 to put up a four-spot against Miller in the second. Michael Grabner also sizzled a shot from the left circle to score for the Islanders at 16:52 of the third.
“We had a great game by everyone,” Tavares said. “It wasn’t just about me getting a hat trick.”