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Tavares relieved after goal drought ends

New York Islanders center John Tavares (91)

New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) reacts after scoring a goal against Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) in the shoot out at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders defeated the Sabres 3-2 in the shoot out. Photo Credit: Newsday/Christopher Pasatieri

Draped in a Team USA jersey, John Tavares emerged from the Islanders' dressing room with a certain degree of chagrin before practice Sunday.

Tavares, who led Canada to a gold medal at last year's World Junior Hockey Championships, was forced to don the enemy garb after losing a bet to captain Doug Weight after this year's championship game. Canada lost to the United States, 6-5, in overtime earlier this month.

But despite having to endure relentless chirping and teasing from his teammates on the ice, Tavares skated with some relief Sunday.

That's because he finally conquered a nine-game goal drought with his first-period tally in the Islanders' 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres on Saturday night.

"It felt good," Tavares said. "It was only a matter of time. Hopefully, this keeps going and leads into a good stretch."

The slump was by no means easy for the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, but Tavares was able to put his struggles in perspective and glean a positive lesson.

"You learn to handle it when things don't go your way," he said.

Tavares dealt with the drop-off by seeking other ways to improve and strengthen his game, and he hopes that translates into making him a more complete player.

"I want to contribute consistently each night," Tavares said. "I want to score goals, but I also want to be responsible in all areas."

Coach Scott Gordon and Tavares' teammates had watched him steadily progress recently and had predicted that his slide would come to an end soon.

Those assumptions were proven accurate when Tavares crashed in on Kyle Okposo's rebound and lifted the puck past Ryan Miller to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 5:38 of the first period.

"He's been working hard, getting good opportunities and getting better every game," said Okposo, who went through his own 18-game streak without a goal earlier this season.

Now that his absence from the goal-scoring column has ended, Tavares hopes he won't find himself in a similar situation again.

The lack of production surely was one of the most difficult times this season for Tavares, although it took a backseat to the humiliation of saluting Team USA yesterday.

"Being Canadian, today was one of the toughest days to get through," Tavares joked. "But I'm fully confident Canada will bring back the gold next year."

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