Following the Islanders 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers Saturday to wrap up a three-game road trip, the visitors dressing room at BB&T Center was oddly quiet. No loud music, no high-fives, no big chatter.
Instead, the Islanders were strictly business, showing less the signs of a team that had just won on a clutch third period goal, and more the traits of a squad that felt lucky to escape South Florida with two points.
“We feel pretty good to have earned the points,” Kyle Okposo, who scored the game’s first goal, said. “Obviously we got a couple big wins on the road trip (including Thursday at Tampa Bay), but that third period in Florida wasn’t our best. We’ve got to come in with a different mindset in our next game. We’ve got to find a way to get two points like we did Saturday, but we know that we have to play better.”
The Islanders led 3-0 in the third period against the Panthers, but allowed the home team to even the score with a trifecta of goals in a span of 103 seconds. After the ice tilted in Florida’s favor, the Islanders rallied to stop the bleeding.
“We got in a situation that we didn’t want to be in, but I really liked the emotion and energy on the bench,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “For about 7-8 minutes we just stopped moving our feet. We didn’t dictate the pace, we didn’t engage with anybody, we just sat around and watched. But we found a way after the timeout to gather ourselves and Keith Aucoin’s line gave us a big shift and capitalized on a nice play.”
The line of Aucoin, Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald stepped up, and Cizikas’ goal with seven minutes left in regulation proved to be the game-winner. Down the stretch, the Islanders returned to what had been working the first 40 minutes, and shut the door on a Panthers’ comeback attempt.
Veteran forward and first year Islander Brad Boyes says there are a lot of lessons the team can take from Saturday’s performance.
“You can look at it a couple ways,” Boyes said. “I think the way we need to look at it is that we didn’t play our best in the third, but we still came back and won. We can’t let that happen again, but I think there’s been a lot of good teaching points this season. This team has grown a lot in the time I’ve been here.”
The Islanders are 5-1-1 in March, and have points in seven of their last eight games. As of Monday, they sit two points behind Carolina for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The team hopes to continue its momentum on an upcoming four-game home stand beginning Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators.
While six teams are within five points one of another between 6th and 11th place, Okposo points out that it’s crucial not to look around at how the competition is faring every night.
“We’re not really focusing on what other teams are doing, but we’re definitely paying attention,” Okposo said. “It’s tough because nobody is playing against teams from the Western Conference, so someone is getting points every night. But we’re not too focused on things out of our control. We just have to worry about beating Ottawa tomorrow and going from there.”
Capuano added that with 20 games left to play, and so many teams battling for the same ticket to the postseason, each tilt has added importance.
“If we win games, it’s going to take care of itself,” Capuano said. “Every game for us now is big. Every period and every shift is important. It’s critical that we maintain our focus and commitment and play every single shift like it’s a Game 7.”
The Islanders next three opponents (Ottawa, Montreal and Pittsburgh) are all teams they are chasing in the standings. With four games in six days at Nassau Coliseum, including a rematch Sunday against the Panthers, the Islanders have an opportunity to make up more ground and break into the top-8 in the East.
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