If you know anything about John Tavares, it's that he thrives on pressure situations and loves having the puck on his stick when the game is on the line. He proved that with the Canadian team at the 2009 World Junior Championship, but hasn't had much of a chance to play in situations that matter in the NHL.
That's one of the unfortunate byproducts of playing for the New York Islanders. But that's all changed this season. The Islanders are a contender and Tavares is emerging as a bona fide superstar in the NHL, and a leading contender for the Hart Trophy. The term 'superstar' is hugely overused in hockey and given to far too many players who don't deserve it. But Tavares is truly becoming a superstar and his performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night proved that.
After being on the ice for two goals against, Tavares took over the game in a 4-3 overtime win over the Leafs, which included this absolute beauty with 22 seconds remaining in overtime:
The brilliant solo effort was Tavares' fourth overtime goal of the season, which gives him the league lead in that category. He also added an assist in the game to give him 72 points and a three-point lead in the scoring race over Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are tied for fourth with 67 points each.
The win also pulled the Islanders even with the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Eastern Conference, although the Canadiens have the edge having played fewer games and having beaten the Islanders in both their meetings this season. More importantly, the Islanders are three points ahead of the New York Rangers going into their game Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum.
That game is noteworthy for a couple of very big reasons. First, its the final meeting between the crosstown rivals at Nassau Coliseum before the Islanders move to Brooklyn next season. (We hope the hockey gods will give us one more playoff series, though.) And it could mark the return of Kyle Okposo, who has missed the past 23 games after surgery to repair a detached retina.