Tavares scores SO winner, Islanders top Jets 5-4
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — The schedule may have said Game 45, but it felt like the playoffs for John Tavares.
And when the Islanders’ young star scored the winner in a 5-4 shootout victory, New York put a serious dent in the Winnipeg Jets’ playoff hopes.
“It’s April. There’s a team right behind us. There’s a lot on the line,” said Tavares. “I think we knew it would have a playoff atmosphere. You could sense it in the locker room before the game, and during the game.”
Tavares and Brad Boyes both beat Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec in the shootout, while Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd replied against Evgeni Nabokov.
The win briefly lifted the Islanders into a tie with Toronto for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 53 points, but the Leafs moved back ahead by two points with a 4-1 victory over Ottawa. The Senators trail the Islanders by a point.
“Good two points for us,” Isles head coach Jack Capuano said. “It was loud, it was a great atmosphere and it was one of the quickest games I’ve been involved in, so it was a track meet for sure.”
The Jets have 49 points and are now a point back of the eighth-place New York Rangers, who were idle Saturday but have a game in hand.
Winnipeg heads on the road for games against Buffalo on Monday and a key Tuesday matchup with the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals (50 points), who played in Montreal on Saturday night.
Nabokov made 24 saves, while Pavelec faced 33 shots as the Jets’ winning streak stopped at five games.
There was plenty of nail-biting for the sellout crowd, with New York ahead 2-1 after the first period and the score tied 3-3 heading to the third.
Michael Grabner redirected an Andrew McDonald feed past Pavelec to give New York a 4-3 lead at 9:13, but Bryan Little tied it with 2:01 left — seven seconds after Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky was called for interference. Little made a head’s up move on the play. A rebound sent the puck toward his left skate and he kicked it over to his stick before beating Nabokov.
“It was an emotional game,” Little said. “We put everything we had into it and kept fighting our way back into the game.”
The Islanders got a goal and assist each from Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey, while Matt Martin also scored. Kyle Okposo and Visnovsky both chipped in with a pair of assists.
Kyle Wellwood scored a pair of goals for Winnipeg, while Zach Bogosian, who left the game late in the third after a heavy hit, added the other.
“It was just a team effort,” Okposo said. “It was a really good hockey game, a playoff-type atmosphere, I think. There were a lot of momentum swings throughout the game.”
Jets head coach Claude Noel found a positive in the Jets gaining a point.
“I think it’s a point gained for me,” he said. “We chased the game. It was a difficult game to play. We knew the opponent; they played the way we thought.”
Noel had pulled Pavelec as soon as Visnovsky got called for interference with 2:08 left in the third.
“They pull their goalie, they win a faceoff, they score,” Capuano said. “I mean, that’s a good team, that’s one of the best teams that we’ve played all year.”
Notes: The Islanders are 17-3-3 this season when scoring first. ... Winnipeg F Olli Jokinen left the ice after his first shift of the game with what the Jets called a lower-body injury. ... New York continues its road trip at Carolina on Tuesday.