- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- John Tavares has taken more than the next step in his development as a third-year NHL player. He's taken a giant leap.
The 21-year-old center scored his third career hat trick to lead the New York Islanders to their third straight victory, a 4-2 win Saturday over the rival New York Rangers in front of a sellout crowd at Nassau Coliseum.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov got the win in his first start as an Islander, stopping 29 of 31 shots.
It was the second straight four-point performance for Tavares, who finished with two goals and two assists in the team's 5-1 rout of Tampa Bay on Thursday, and a reminder of how far he's come since entering the league as a reserved 19-year-old.
"I still see him as a goofy kid," Tavares' good friend and linemate Matt Moulson said jokingly. "But he's just committed to being one of the best players in the game. He's playing with a lot confidence right now. And when he does that he's a scary player to play against."
His masterful play was highlighted by a pair of power-play goals against a stunningly undisciplined Rangers squad that has been held winless in its first three games of the season.
Tavares gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead in the second, backhanding the puck past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at 11:47, and he scored the deciding goal with a redirect of defenseman Mark Streit's shot 3:30 into the third.
"It's nice to produce. It's what I do best, obviously," said Tavares, who signed a six-year $33 million contract extension last month. "I take a lot of pride in it and it's nice to come through."
With a little over a minute left in regulation and Lundqvist on the Rangers' bench, Moulson and P.A. Parenteau got the puck to Tavares for an empty-netter and his first hat trick of the season.
"That was a hell of a play, a bit of a risky play there with the last minute and us only up by a goal," Tavares said. "I wasn't calling for it, because I was trying to do the right play, but they gave me a hell of a play and I had the easy finish."
Scoreless in his first two games, Tavares seems primed for a breakout season with eight points (five goals, three assists) over the past two. He's not the same player he was as a rookie, when he struggled to find his pace at times despite an impressive 24-goal campaign. And he's made dramatic improvements from his sophomore season -- a solid 29-goal, 67-point effort. Tavares is blossoming into the player the Islanders saw when they called his name first overall in the 2009 draft, and he's only scratched the surface.
"Like I said his first year, he's only going to get better every year the more he matures and understands what he's capable of," Moulson said. "You're seeing glimpses of it here."
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