RALEIGH — For a long time Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes struggled to get the puck past unheralded 21-year-old goalie Kevin Poulin, who was playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League last week.
But in the end, it was another 21-year-old, one of the emerging stars of the NHL, who did in the Canes.
John Tavares scored a pair of goals and had two assists, leading the New York Islanders to a 5-2 victory at the RBC Center.
Poulin got the job done in net, and the Isles stopped the Canes for the third straight time this season.
Goals by Brandon Sutter and Tim Brent in the third period helped the Canes rally for a 2-2 tie. Brent's goal, with 13 minutes, 5 seconds left in regulation, came on the Canes' first power play of the game.
"We believed we could come back and we did," Brent said. But as Brent put it, the comeback was short-lived.
Tavares' first goal, just 41 seconds after Brent's score, pushed the Isles back ahead and proved to be the winner.
Canes goalie Cam Ward left the crease to play a bouncing puck, only to fan on it.
The Isles' Matt Moulson grabbed it near the corner and found Tavares streaking down the slot for the score.
The Isles added two empty-net goals - by Kyle Okposo and Tavares - in the final two minutes. P.A. Parenteau and Moulson each had power-play goals as the Isles (20-22-7) took a 2-0 lead after two.
The line of Tavares, Moulson and Okposo combined for four goals and five assists.
"They're three talented players," Sutter said. "They all skate really well and that makes it tough. They're probably one of the top young lines in the league and are going to be good for a long time."
Tavares and Poulin both joined the Islanders on Monday - Tavares returning after playing in the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa, and Poulin being recalled from the Isles' AHL affiliate in Connecticut.
Poulin made his third NHL start of the season.
Tavares, the No. 1 pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, had three assists in the Isles' 4-3 shootout win Jan. 3 at the RBC Center, then a pair of goals - including the overtime winner - on Jan. 21 in a 2-1 victory.
"Give credit where it's due. He's worked hard to become the elite player that he is," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "He's done a good job hurting us these last three games, but he seems to be doing it against everybody right now. He's an opportunist."
The Canes (18-25-9), last in the NHL's Eastern Conference, had little jump in the first period and managed just five shots in a generally sluggish second before making a game of it in the third.
"It's tough to win games when you play your best hockey for 20 minutes," Muller said.
The Canes had two penalties in each of the first two periods against a team that was sharper and faster. Muller mixed up his lines in the third, putting Chad LaRose on Eric Staal's line and reuniting Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu to finally finding some offense.
"Their power play gave them momentum and then they took it to us for the first half of the game," Skinner said. "In the third we turned it around. At 2-2 it can go either way. It was a good job battling back. Unfortunately we couldn't get that third goal."
But Tavares did. And then another one.
"He's one of those elite player who's on fire right now," Muller said.