The crafty center scored both New York goals - including the winner 3:58 into overtime - and the resurgent Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 for their third straight win and fourth victory in five games.
"We're really coming together as a team lately," said the 21-year-old Tavares, who extended his point streak to an NHL-best 12 games this season. "I think we can be even better. We just have to play with confidence."
Tavares was mobbed by teammates after scoring his 19th goal of the season, off assists from P.A. Parenteau and Travis Hamonic. His forehand from in front was slowed by goalie Cam Ward, but the puck fluttered across the goal line.
The Islanders (19-21-6) moved ahead of Buffalo into 12th place in the Eastern Conference, eight points behind the Washington Capitals and the postseason cutoff. Tavares has eight goals and 13 assists during his streak that started Dec. 29 against Calgary. The Islanders are 8-4 in that span.
"I'm trying to contribute the best I can to get us where we want to be," Tavares said. "This was a huge win for us. We worked hard."
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 32 shots for the Islanders, who have won five of seven. It was the fourth straight win for Nabokov, a season high for Islanders goalies. Nabokov, 8-1-1 in 11 career games against the Hurricanes, improved to 10-11 this season.
He earned his 300th NHL win on Jan. 14 against Buffalo and has been a steady force for the team in starting 14 of the last 15 games.
New York has allowed only four goals in its last four games. The Islanders won at Philadelphia and Washington this week after losing at home to Nashville on Monday.
"I'm happy with the way the team responded," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
Ward said the Hurricanes played well, despite the loss. Carolina, which has struggled near the bottom of the standings all season, beat Washington at home on Friday.
"Our guys did battle hard. This game could have gone either way," he said. "The Islanders are a quick team with lots of offense and pucks to the net. We had our hands full, and Tavares certainly showed some great hand-eye coordination on that winning goal."
Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, who took over for the fired Paul Maurice on Nov. 28, also discerned positives from his team's effort.
"We got two points [Friday] night and one tonight," Muller said. "Give the Islanders credit. They are a good skating team playing with momentum. We knew that going in. Ward certainly kept us in the game with big saves."
The Islanders peppered Ward with a season-best 23 shots in the second period, but had only eight the rest of the game in finishing with 40.
Jeff Skinner opened the scoring for Carolina at 8:43 of the first on a backhand that eluded Nabokov. The 19-year-old Skinner, last season's NHL rookie of the year, has 13 goals this season. It was his first since he returned from a 16-game absence from Dec. 9-Jan. 14 because of a concussion.
Tavares tied it at 7:46 of the second when he knocked in a rebound of defenseman Mark Streit's slap shot from the point.
The Hurricanes (17-24-9) are 17-4-4 against the Islanders since Jan. 6, 2006.
New York won for only the fourth time this season when allowing the first goal. The Islanders are 4-18-2 in those games.
The Islanders also won their previous meeting with Carolina this season, a 4-3 road shootout victory on Jan. 3. The clubs play again in Raleigh on Jan. 31, the first night of play after the All-Star break.
- Tavares' point streak is the longest by an Islanders player since Mark Parrish had a 12-gamer early in the 2001-02 season.
- The Islanders have 9,983 goals in team history (excluding shootouts).
- The Hurricanes won all four meetings with the Islanders last season, outscoring New York 18-8.
- The Islanders have killed 32 of 33 penalties in their last four games
- The Islanders have games with the Maple Leafs next Monday in Toronto and at home on Tuesday before the All-Star break.