With a wide-open two-on-none rush and a prime opportunity to snap a scoreless tie in the first period, John Tavares did the inexplicable, dishing off to linemate PA Parenteau.
Parenteau quickly fed back to Tavares, but he was stuffed at the near post by Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.
Tavares would not make the same mistake twice.
After that bungled scoring chance, the 20-year-old center showed ruthless precision. He rattled off three straight goals against Miller in a span of 5:46 in the second period for his second hat trick of the season, lifting the Islanders to a 5-3 win over Buffalo Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
"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 three-goal effort was much sweeter than the last one. Tavares' first career hat trick was wasted in the Islanders' 4-3 loss to the Panthers on Oct. 23, the game that began their 14-game winless streak.
"I just stuck with it, stayed positive, and Parenteau and [Matt] Moulson made good passes all night," Tavares said. "They gave me good opportunities and I was lucky enough to be able to finish them off."
After the Islanders surrendered a five-on-three power-play goal to Thomas Vanek 17 seconds into the second period, Tavares roofed one from the slot at 7:50 to tie it.
Then he scooped up Moulson's rebound and backhanded the puck past Miller for a power-play goal and a 2-1 lead at 10:34.
At 13:36, Tavares knocked in a loose puck for his third goal. He became the first Islander to score a natural hat trick since Moulson, who notched one Dec. 3 in Atlanta.
Blake Comeau also extended his hot streak, scoring his fifth goal in six games at 15:25 of the second to give the Islanders four goals in the period and a 4-1 lead. It was his 13th goal of the season.
Michael Grabner sizzled a shot from the left circle to score a shorthanded goal for the Islanders at 16:52 of the third, giving the Islanders a 5-2 lead. It was his 10th goal.
"We had a great game by everyone," Tavares said. "It wasn't just about me getting a hat trick."
DiPietro missed five straight games with the groin injury, and with Dwayne Roloson having been traded to Tampa Bay, the Islanders had to rely on the rookie tandem of Kevin Poulin and Nathan Lawson in his absence.
"He played unbelievable," said Moulson, who had 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."