Tavares scored the overtime winner and added an assist as the New York Islanders erased a two-goal, third-period deficit to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 Monday night. In reaching 72 points, Tavares extended his league lead and handed his hometown team a difficult loss.
"He's one of the best players in the world," said Leafs centre Peter Holland, whose job for the second and third periods was to defend Tavares. "He's so skilled, he's very good at making passes out there and he's so strong on the puck down low in the offensive zone that it's tough to contain him."
Tavares, who was born in and lives in nearby Mississauga and grew up in Oakville, has the most points of any visiting player at Air Canada Centre since he entered the NHL in 2009-10.
"I just try to prepare like every other game," Tavares said. "I don't try to put too much pressure on myself or look at it any differently because I'm from here and I have a lot of friends and family (in attendance). But you have them here and you certainly want to play well."
With Tavares held off the score sheet by Tyler Bozak's line for the first period and Holland's in the second, the Leafs (26-35-6) built a lead on goals by David Booth (his third in three games) and Holland. Tyler Kennedy scored early in the third in his Islanders debut, and after James van Riemsdyk restored Toronto's advantage to two, Frans Nielsen and Casey Cizakis scored 30 seconds apart to tie it.
Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek was more pleased with his team's effort than in Saturday's blowout loss to the St. Louis Blues, but he and his players weren't happy about how two points evaporated to one Monday.
"We did do some good things, but when you're up by two goals in the third on home ice, you should never lose the game," said van Riemsdyk, whose goal was just his second in the past 18 games.
Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier did his part, making a couple of big pad stops on Tavares as part of his 39-save performance. Michal Neuvirth stopped 22 of the 25 shots he faced to help the Islanders (43-21-4) extend their lead in the Metropolitan Division going into a game against the archrival Rangers.
But it was the heroics of Tavares that had the Islanders feeling good going into that showdown. With a shootout looming, Tavares went around several Leafs defenders before sliding a shot past Bernier that he didn't get all of.
"I just tried to gain some speed," Tavares said. "I saw their defenceman kind of backed off and kind of gave me the lane to the net. I just was able to hesitate enough to open up Bernier and I was just happy it trickled in."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano praised defenceman Travis Hamonic for the pass out of the defensive zone, but he had plenty of credit left to give Tavares for a "great individual effort" on his 33rd goal of the season.
Notes — With Roman Polak done for the season to have hernia surgery, the Leafs called up Petter Granberg and plugged him into the lineup. ... Islanders defenceman Nick Leddy left the game with an injury after colliding with Morgan Rielly in the second period. ... Islanders first-round pick Michael Dal Colle was in attendance. Dal Colle has 38 goals and 49 assists in 51 games this season for OHL East Division-champion Oshawa Generals.