NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - John Tavares is earning every penny of the seven-year, $77 million contract the Toronto Maple Leafs gave him in the offseason.
Not only is he living up to the hype, the 28-year-old center is having a career year.
Tavares scored twice and hit the 300-goal mark for his career in leading the Maple Leafs to a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.
“It’s always that more satisfying when it contributes to a big win, especially bouncing back after the other night, so credit a lot of guys who I’ve played with over my career because obviously that was a big part of helping me be successful,” said Tavares, who also picked up an assist on linemate Mitch Marner’s empty-net goal with 22 seconds to play.
Tavares’ best season was 38 goals and 48 assists in 2014-15 with the Islanders. He now has 29 goals and 21 assists in 43 games with the Maple Leafs.
Tavares and Marner were helped by the return of left wing Zach Hyman, who was activated after missing eight games with an ankle injury.
“They’re awesome,” Hyman said after posting a plus-4 night. “I just try and get them the puck as much as I can. John’s pretty tenacious on it and you see how strong he is and how he gets the puck back all the time. He’s one of the best finishers around the net. Mitch is an elite passer but he can also get himself open to shoot and you’re seeing more of that this year.”
Defenseman Ron Hainsey also scored in Toronto’s three-goal first period and third-string goaltender Michael Hutchinson made 27 saves as the Maple Leafs beat the Devils for the third time in as many games.
Blake Coleman and Brian Boyle scored in a 26-second span for the Devils late in the second period to get New Jersey within a goal. Keith Kinkaid made 39 saves, including two on Tavares that prevented his hat trick and 30th goal of the season.
Lightning 3, Hurricanes 1
In Tampa, Florida, Brayden Point had a tiebreaking power-play goal in the third period and added a late empty-netter in NHL-leading Lightning’s comeback victory over Carolina.
After Point scored from in-close with 3:15 left, he got his 28th goal into the empty net during the final minute. Ondrej Palat also scored, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 26 saves. Point also had an assist. Tampa Bay, 17-1-1 over the last 19 games, tied a team mark with its ninth consecutive home win.
Justin Williams picked up his 300th NHL goal for the Hurricanes, who had a five-game winning streak end. Petr Mzarek 27 stopped shots.
Capitals 4, Bruins 2
In Boston, Nicklas Backstrom scored in the third period after missing a game with an illness, helping Washington beat the Bruins for the 14th straight time.
Backstrom ripped a left-circle wrister past Jaroslav Halak for the go-ahead goal with 14:14 remaining.
Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 31st and 32nd goals, and also had the highlight hit of the game when he sent Zdeno Chara — the NHL’s tallest player ever at 206 cm — flipping head over heels into the Capitals’ bench on a shove late in the first period.
Braden Holtby made 39 saves, improving to 12-0-0 against Boston during the Capitals’ streak, and 16-2 in his career against the Bruins.
Islanders 4, Rangers 3
In New York, Josh Bailey scored with 1:26 remaining to lift the Islanders over the Rangers.
Cal Clutterbuck found Bailey cutting to the back post, and he beat Henrik Lundqvist to help the Islanders improve to 13-2-0 in the last 15 meetings between the Big Apple rivals.
Matt Barzal had a goal and two assists, and Robin Lehner made 27 saves. Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee also scored for the Islanders, and Johnny Boychuk had two assists.
Ryan Strome, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jesper Fast scored for the Rangers. They dropped their fifth straight to open 2019.
Sharks 3, Golden Knights 2
In Las Vegas, Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi netted third-period goals 39 seconds apart to lift San Jose over the hosts.
The Sharks won their fifth straight and ended the Golden Knights’ seven-game winning streak. San Jose (59 points) leapfrogged Vegas in the Pacific Division standings and is one point behind Calgary for the top spot.
In Other Games
Oilers 4, Panthers 3 (SO)
Senators 4, Kings 1
Blue Jackets 4, Predators 3 (OT)
Wild 3, Jets 2
Blues 4, Canadiens 1
Flyers 2, Stars 1
Coyotes 4, Canucks 3 (OT)