Isles Give Fans Early Christmas Present

UNIONDALE, NY— Twice the red lights accidentally flashed behind the Islanders net in the final five minutes of regulation.

Dwayne Roloson didn’t let the symbolism become foreshadowing. The netminder stopped 14 shots in the final period while Trent Hunter and John Tavares scored just 1:30 apart in the second period to lead the Islanders to a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday evening.

Roloson blocked out the electrical malfunction behind him and a slew of quality Toronto scoring chances with the clock ticking down. That included a pad save on Lee Stempniak‘s close-range shot from the slot late in the final stanza as the Islanders ended a four-game homestand 1-3.

Tavares broke a six-game goal-less streak with his tally just 90 seconds after Hunter opened the scoring on a wrist shot. Tavares, the NHL’s leading rookie scorer, notched his 16th goal to move past Matt Moulson for the team lead.

“It’s great for his confidence,” said Roloson, who finished with 26 saves. “He works hard day-in and day-out. He’s only going to get better. For him to get an important goal, it’s great.”

Tavares’ netted one of his easiest NHL goals, slamming home a shot from the slot into an empty net after Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavvson moved over to stop Blake Comeau’s rush. Comeau also was awarded a goal when he was taken down with an empty Maple Leafs net at 19:25 for the clinching goal.

The 19-year-old center was drafted first overall due to his prolific scoring ability as an amateur. Though six games hardly qualifies as a prolonged slump, Tavares said he is just trying to become a consistent player at the highest level after scoring 215 goals in just 247 games in the junior-level OHL.

“You don’t go through it as much in juniors,” Tavares said. “You play so much, you just need to move on and get ready for the next game.

“Tonight I tried to focus on keeping my feet moving and just having lots of intensity and hopefully it creates opportunity. I thought it was a better effort, not just for myself, but for everyone else.”

Islanders coach Scott Gordon said he’s been impressed with Tavares’ maturation as he leads the club with 28 points.

“When you make that jump for junior or college to the pros, you feel it’s going to continue and when you have those dry spells, it’s probably harder on guys like him,” Gordon said. “He needs to learn to relax a little. Every players has their stretches where they’re not going to get points. The only thing you can control is your effort.”

The Islanders snapped a four-game losing streak at Nassau Coliseum and moved one-point ahead of the Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings.

Tavares ended his streak while former first-round draft pick Kyle Okposo continue to be mired

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in a scoring funk. Okposo’s goal-draught reached 18 games. The winger’s last goal came Nov. 14 against Florida.

Gordon said his team looked better as it enters a two-day Christmas break with momentum. The team’s next game is Saturday against the

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Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Isles currently occupy the 12th spot and sit just four points behind the Blueshirts for the eighth and final play position.

“The two points are always going to be important,” Gordon said. “Realistically we have to aim for that eighth spot and there are a lot of teams bunched in that area.”

Gordon said the power play looked sharper even though it officially finished 0 for 4. Hunter’s goal came three seconds after a Maple Leafs penalty expired and Toronto was whistled for a penalty with just 23 seconds remaining. The Islanders are 1 for 27 on the power play in its last six games.

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