DENVER - Sitting in his stall after scoring the game-winner in overtime, John Tavares offered a simple answer for the Islanders' recent success.
What separates this team from the one that went 21 games with only one win earlier this season?
"We're handling adversity much better now," he said.
The Islanders displayed that ability to overcome at several crucial points throughout yesterday's 4-3 overtime win over Colorado at Pepsi Center. They rattled off three straight power-play goals in response to an early two-goal deficit, watched Colorado's Milan Hejduk tie the score with four seconds left in regulation - and responded to that with Tavares' 14th goal at 3:52 of OT.
"Our guys, they battled," coach Jack Capuano said. "That's a good sign in the belief we have in our team."
Before Hejduk's second goal of the game tied it, Tavares had the chance to seal the game with an empty-net goal but couldn't get a good handle on a loose puck with Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles trailing him closely from behind.
"That one was in my head when I got off the ice," he said.
With a little more than a minute left in overtime, however, Tavares atoned for that missed opportunity. He made a beautiful move to blow past defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and cut to the net before switching to his forehand for the winner.
Said Tavares, "It was nice to be able to make up for that one."
Beyond a nearly perfect power play and a pristine penalty-killing effort, the Islanders received mighty contributions from Bridgeport call-up Jeremy Colliton, who had two goals, and 20-year-old rookie goaltender Kevin Poulin, who was making his first NHL start.
Colliton, who was called up Friday to replace injured center Frans Nielsen, scored a power-play goal at 5:52 of the first period, his first NHL goal in almost five years. His last one came April 15, 2006, in a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Playing in front of his parents for the first time in his NHL career, the 25-year-old native of Blackie, Alberta, scored his second power-play goal of the game at 3:17 of the second period to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead. In between Colliton's goals, Blake Comeau scored his 10th goal at 12:59 of the first period.
"It means a lot," said Colliton, who spent last season in the Swedish Elite League after several seasons with the Islanders' minor-league affiliate. "It's exciting to get the opportunity, first of all. But I got put in that position and it's nice to actually do something."
Poulin surrendered a pair of goals in the opening 1:47 but wound up making 34 saves to secure his first NHL victory. After that first-period hiccup, his only blemish was the tying goal by Hejduk, whose backhander careened off his shoulder with four seconds left in regulation. "That was why I was a little more disappointed about that one,'' Poulin said, "because I almost had it."
But he held on as the Islanders earned their fourth win in five games. "It means everything to me," Poulin said of his first NHL win. "That's why you play hockey."