Panthers start fast, but Islanders pull away with 4-2 victory
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders were even with the Florida Panthers in the first period, and coach Jack Capuano liked nothing about it.
He let his players know it, and they responded with an impressive final 40 minutes.
Josh Bailey had a goal and assist, and the Islanders kept up their strong finish with a 4-2 victory over the Panthers on Tuesday night.
"We got off to a real slow start," Capuano said.
New York, on the verge of elimination in the Eastern Conference playoff race after qualifying for the postseason a year ago, quickly bounced back from Quinton Howden’s short-handed goal less than two minutes in and sent the Panthers to their fourth straight loss.
Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin and Mike Halmo also scored, Colin McDonald had two assists, and Evgeni Nabokov made 20 saves for the Islanders, 4-0-1 in their past five.
"Guys have done a good job keeping each other up, keeping the spirits up even though it can be tough," Bailey said. "When you think about last year down the stretch and how much fun it was, it’s difficult. We definitely don’t want to find ourselves here ever again, but you’ve still got a job to do."
Florida, which won two earlier meetings this season, is one of three NHL teams with fewer points than New York.
"No one is happy with where we are," Martin said. "It’s a rough year and a year we’re not proud of, but to be going down the stretch with some wins and playing good hockey definitely feels a little bit better."
Brandon Pirri closed the scoring for Florida, making it 4-2 with his 11th goal — on a power play — with 5.9 seconds left in the game. Scott Clemmensen stopped 36 shots for Florida, which lost 6-3 at New Jersey on Monday.
"We let them capitalize on too many chances," Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. "We have to stay positive and try to end the season with better efforts."
The action started quickly for the Panthers, who scored short-handed for the second straight night — the fourth time that has happened in team history.
On his first NHL shift, defenseman Jonathan Racine was called for interference when he leveled forward Cal Clutterbuck 42 seconds in.
Florida then struck first.
Howden knocked the puck free at the left point and raced the other way alone. He easily stayed in front of Frans Nielsen and beat Nabokov at 1:50.
The Islanders tied it on the same power play, 45 seconds later, when Hamonic netted his third goal. Bailey won a faceoff and got the puck back to Hamonic, who snapped a shot through traffic at 2:35.
"The surge started to go our way a little bit, but we didn’t play our style in the first," Capuano said. "I wasn’t happy at all, and I know the guys weren’t happy, either, but you’ve got to find a way. You can’t have slow starts in this league."
Florida gave the Islanders two other power plays in the period in which the Panthers were outshot 11-5.
They were about to get an advantage with 2:19 left when Matt Carkner high-sticked Scottie Upshall in front of the penalty box and knocked him to the ice. But Panthers teammate Erik Gudbranson charged Carkner, and they immediately fought.
Gudbranson was given an extra penalty for instigating, wiping out the power play.
The Islanders added two goals in the second, including Bailey’s seventh 17 seconds after he served a penalty. McDonald got two whacks at the puck, and Bailey slammed in the rebound at 11:18.
New York stretched the lead to 3-1 with 2:24 remaining. McDonald knocked the puck away from Racine at the left point and took off alone. The hard-charging Martin came down the middle and ripped in the rebound of McDonald’s shot for his eighth goal.
"They kept coming at us, kept crashing the crease," Clemmensen said. "They never stopped working, never gave up on plays all night."
Halmo converted his rebound 4:21 into the third to make it 4-1. It was his first NHL goal in his 13th career game.
"Everyone in here wants to play hard and be successful and give management something to think about for next season," Martin said. "We’re in a profession where no one’s job is really safe, so if you want to play here, you’ve got to show it."
NOTES: For the third straight year, Martin was given the team’s Bob Nystrom Award, honoring leadership, hustle and dedication. … Racine and RW Bobby Butler were recalled from San Antonio (AHL) on Tuesday. Butler was scratched. … With Montreal clinching a playoff spot, the trade between the Canadiens and Islanders in which Thomas Vanek was dealt by New York is completed. The Islanders will receive an extra second-round draft pick and give up their fifth-rounder to Montreal.