TORONTO — John Tavares again felt right at home on the road in Toronto.
With 30 family members and friends watching from the stands, the New York Islanders captain continued his career mastery at Air Canada Centre and extended his lead in the NHL scoring race.
And for good measure, Tavares scored the winning goal in overtime.
Tavares netted his 33rd goal of the season 4:38 into the extra session, capping the Islanders’ two-goal comeback in a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 9.
Tavares, an Ontario native, went around several defenders to score the winning goal during a delayed Toronto penalty. With a goal and assist, he stretched his advantage in the scoring race to three points over Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” said Maple Leafs center Peter Holland, whose job for the second and third periods was to defend Tavares.
“He’s so skilled. He’s very good at making passes out there, and he’s so strong on the puck down low in the offensive zone that it’s tough to contain him.”
Tavares, who was born in and lives in nearby Mississauga and grew up in Oakville, has the most points of any visiting player at Air Canada Centre since he entered the NHL in the 2009-10 season.
“I just try to prepare like every other game,” Tavares said. “I don’t try to put too much pressure on myself or look at it any differently because I’m from here and I have a lot of friends and family (in attendance).
“But you have them here, and you certainly want to play well.” Tavares has four overtime goals this season.
“I just tried to gain some speed,” Tavares said. “I saw their defenseman kind of backed off and kind of gave me the lane to the net. I just was able to hesitate enough to open up Bernier, and I was just happy it trickled in.”
Tyler Kennedy — in his Islanders debut — Frans Nielson and Casey Cizikas all scored in the third period for New York (43-21-4), which has a three-point lead over the New York Rangers atop the Metropolitan Division.
Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for the Islanders, who will host the Rangers on March 10.
David Booth, Holland and James van Riemsdyk scored for the Maple Leafs (26-35-6). Jonathan Bernier made 39 saves.
New York trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in the third period. “It’s a much better feeling than it could have been,” Tavares said. “We were disappointed with our first two periods.”
Two days after Maple Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek criticized his team for a lack of effort in a blowout loss to St. Louis, Toronto showed plenty but couldn’t complete the victory.
“We did do some good things, but when you’re up by two goals in the third on home ice, you should never lose the game,” said van Riemsdyk, whose goal was just his second in 18 games.
With Nazem Kadri scratched as punishment for missing a team meeting, Horachek changed up the lines and broke up the trio of van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel. It paid off for much of the night.
Booth opened the scoring 18:23 into the first period by deking and lifting a backhander past Neuvirth. The goal was Booth’s third in three games after he scored only one in his first 41 this season.
Less than a minute after Bernier made a big stop on Tavares, Holland followed up on a loose puck at the side of the net to give the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead at 10:27 of the third.
Kennedy cut the deficit in half 1:32 into the third period off a pass from Tavares. After van Riemsdyk restored Toronto’s two-goal lead with a goal off the rush at 6:06, the Islanders continued their comeback.
With Booth in the penalty box, Nielsen scored at 9:58. Just 30 seconds later, Cizikas tipped a shot by Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic past Bernier to tie it.
As the Islanders buzzed around him, Bernier made two saves in the final seconds of regulation to get the game to overtime.
Source: The National Herald