UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The postgame sentiment from John Tavares seemed a mix of both excitement and relief on Saturday night.
Thrilled, of course, that the Islanders knocked off the Devils 5-1; happy that his fourth career hat trick led the way for the team’s second straight win; satisfied that the club's unsightly five-game skid is now in the rear-view mirror as the team climbs up the Eastern Conference standings.
"Another good win," Tavares said. "Not every game is going to be our best game, but if we keep our consistency, it’ll lead to good results."
It was a decidedly different scene from last week, when a TV broadcast showed a dejected Tavares on the Islanders bench, absolutely despondent after the team’s fifth straight loss -- a 6-4 eyesore in which the team surrendered four third-period goals to the Carolina Hurricanes.
And considering that sobering moment, it’s hard not to imagine that the 22-year-old center wanted nothing more than to put the team on his back and turn things around.
With nine points over the past five games, he’s doing his best.
After the five-game slump that placed the team perilously close to irrelevance just a quarter through the 2013 season, the team has now rattled off two straight against divisional opponents. Downing the Rangers in the shootout Thursday night and knocking off the Devils at home, the Islanders are now tied for 10th place in the Eastern Conference, two points out of the last playoff spot.
They have fought their way out of obscurity in large part to Tavares, whose four-point night was a stunning reminder of the talent that may allow the team to claw its way to its first postseason bid in six years.
Extending his goal-scoring streak to five games, Tavares snapped a scoreless draw late in the second period, burying a rebound from Brad Boyes with 3:13 remaining. Less than two minutes later, he notched another goal, this time on the power play, to give the Islanders a 2-0 lead and rattle Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg's confidence.
Linemate Matt Moulson, who matched Tavares’ four points with one goal and three assists, tallied the team’s third goal in the span of 2:20 to sink the Devils right before second intermission.
Tavares’ best goal of the night came late in the third, when he sent a blistering wrist shot past Hedberg to seal the game and give the Islanders their third power-play marker of the night.
"When you're relied upon to score, there's pressure every game, but that’s something you embrace," Moulson said. "You enjoy having that opportunity and that pressure on you to get out and produce. We take pride in producing and contributing to wins, so it’s a good feeling."
Moulson and fellow first-liner Boyes are helping Tavares pave the way, but if the Islanders are really going to make a meaningful run at the playoffs, they will have to do so on the back of their best player.
And he knows who he is.
"I think any great players put a lot of responsibilities on themselves because they want to lead the team," coach Jack Capuano said. "And that’s the way Johnny is."