For National Hockey League teams, there is symbolism and meaning in Thanksgiving beyond the stuffing, the Macy's parade and the ocean of retail sales. There is a strong feeling and pretty good documentation that in hockey, if you're in playoff position when the turkey is served, you're likely to still be there in the spring when ham is served on the Easter table.
It is no sure thing, of course, because there is about three-fourths of a season to go. Still, if there is anything to that pattern, it is a good omen for the Isles.
Wednesday night they reached a telling benchmark. Much more important, they earned a win. John Tavares calmly waited until he got a clear shot and fired, scoring a power-play winner with 23.2 seconds remaining in overtime to beat the Capitals, 3-2, before a rollicking vacation-week crowd of 16,170 at Nassau Coliseum.
It was their fifth consecutive victory, and fueled confidence among players who weren't all that familiar with the Thanksgiving-to-playoffs theory.
"I hear that," Tavares said, shortly after he was serenaded by an "M-V-P" chant as he was named No. 1 star of the game. "But you can talk to me about the playoffs when it's April 17 or whatever it is. We'll take it one game at a time, like we have. It's important all year long that we keep getting better."
They do have a winner's knack of getting better as a game grows later. They are 7-0 in overtimes and shootouts. "We can win any kind of hockey game. I think we've proven that this year," Tavares said. "We've got a character team. I think we know if we're playing well or if we can be playing better at certain points in the game, there's a lot of hockey left and we believe in ourselves."
"That," said teammate Johnny Boychuk, who has won the Stanley Cup, "is what good teams do."
The Islanders jumped ahead of the Capitals 2-1 in the first period as Anders Lee got himself in front of the net, perfectly positioned to flip a backhander past Braden Holtby at 5:11. After Alex Ovechkin tied it with a whippet shot from the left faceoff dot during a power play at 13:46, the Islanders regained the lead with their own power-play goal: a long shot from the right point by Travis Hamonic.
Proving the depth and maturity that opposing coach Barry Trotz had praised earlier in the day, it was assisted by fourth-liners Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, and helped by a screen from linemate Matt Martin.
The large, lively Coliseum crowd loved it when Lee fought Tom Wilson late in the second period. It turned out, however, that Ovechkin liked it most of all. Lee was assessed an extra two-minute penalty for roughing. On the resulting power play, before any Islander noticed Ovechkin again alone in the low left circle, the Capitals captain had ripped another one-timer past Jaroslav Halak to tie the score at 2.
But Halak secured his eighth consecutive victory, and the Islanders treated themselves to a happy Thanksgiving.
"When I was in Boston, we used it as a benchmark, too. I remember hearing that somewhere," Boychuk said. "It doesn't mean the world. What does mean something is the way we're playing right now."