UNIONDALE, N.Y. – This is just what the New York Islanders had in mind when they took John Tavares with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft.
The 20-year-old forward scored three goals for his second NHL hat trick, and Rick DiPietro made 40 saves to help the Islanders beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 on Saturday night and snap a three-game losing streak.
“Getting a natural hat trick is always nice,” Tavares said. “We did a lot of things right.”
DiPietro played for the first time since he injured his groin during New York’s five-game road trip.
“I felt great,” DiPietro said. “We had a better effort and a much better start.”
Blake Comeau and Michael Grabner also scored for New York, which is 9-4-2 in its last 15 games.
Tomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis and Jochen Hecht scored for the Sabres, who got 32 saves from Ryan Miller.
The first period was scoreless, but featured several scoring chances. The best came with less than seven minutes remaining when Tavares ripped a shot that Miller snagged with his glove as he dived.
Buffalo started the second period with a two-man advantage, and grabbed a 1-0 lead 17 seconds in when Vanek tipped Tyler Ennis’ shot past DiPietro.
But the Islanders had no complaints about their franchise goalie.
“Rick was awesome,” Comeau said. “We also did a good job of hitting the neutral zone with speed.”
The Islanders tied it when Tavares sent a wrist shot under the crossbar from in close at 7:50.
Tavares struck again at 10:34 on a power play when he backhanded Matt Moulson’s attempt past Miller to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead. Tavares completed the hat trick when he put in a rebound at 13:36, scoring his team-leading 18th goal.
Comeau pushed the Islanders’ lead to 4-1 with a shot off a rebound that got past Miller at 15:25. Comeau has scored in three straight games.
“We gave them every opportunity to capitalize in the second,” Miller said. “Tavares is a very tough kid.”
Ennis scored on a power-play rebound at 5:45 of the third period, cutting the deficit to 4-2. But Grabner put the Islanders back up by three goals with a short-handed tally at 16:52.
Miller was injured on the scoring play, but stayed in the game after being checked out by trainers.
Hecht finished the scoring with 1:45 left.
That wasn’t enough to overcome the effort by Tavares, who has scored 10 goals in 15 games.
“John has always had a consistent effort,” DiPietro said. “He’s learning how to gear up for an 82-game season. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially for a 20-year old.”
NOTES: The teams will play each other three times this month, twice on Long Island.