The New York Islanders scored early and maintained pressure throughout, blanking the Florida Panthers 3-0 Sunday at Nassau Coliseum. Evgeni Nabokov stopped all 26 shots faced to record his third shutout of the season, as the Islanders improved to 14-15-3 (31 points) to pull within a point of the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Islanders clung to a 1-0 lead, provided by Andrew MacDonald’s power-play goal in the first period, and kept their foot on the gas pedal through the final horn, outshooting their opponent 13-10 in the final period and adding two insurance markers in the final minute.
“We needed a win,” Islanders center John Tavares said. “Games are starting to quickly tick down and we need the wins. There’s not too many home games left and we haven’t been very consistent over the season here. You’ve got to finish on a good note. Our fans deserved it. We needed it and it’s good to finish it the right way and get ready for a big road trip.”
MacDonald’s second goal of the season came just six minutes after the opening faceoff. The Islanders held the puck in the Florida zone for nearly the full two-minute power play before Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen set up MacDonald high in the zone. With tired defenders around him, MacDonald was able to step into his shot and beat Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom at 6:05.
The Islanders outshot the Panthers 13-4 in the first period and had several chances to pad their lead; Brad Boyes redirected a shot from in tight that Markstrom absorbed, and Nielsen hit a post, but the game remained 1-0.
The play was much more even for the final 40 minutes, with the Panthers’s best chances to tie the game coming on a pair of power plays. Nabokov made a key save on Tomas Fleishmann’s wraparound attempt five minutes into the third to keep the Panthers’ man advantage at bay.
Nabokov made 10 third period saves, including a pair during a late barrage, and the Islanders blocked eight shots during the third to hold Florida off the board.
“Consistency is the word we preach,” Nabokov said. “It’s not like it hasn’t been there, because it has, but we have to make sure we get the results that we want. I’ve been saying this, and it sounds cliché, but it’s not easy to win. Sometimes you need a little bounce here, a bounce there. Today, we made sure the bounces were on our side.”
With Markstrom pulled in the final minute of play, a blocked shot by Matt Moulson led to a rush the other way. Brad Boyes dished to Tavares in the neutral zone, who netted his 19th of the season with 31 seconds remaining, doubling the Islanders lead to 2-0.
Following the game, MacDonald said that maintaining a high battle level through the third period was a primary focus for the team.
“That was a huge emphasis for us going into the third period tonight,” MacDonald said. “Nothing should change, as it’s still the same game. We have to play the same way to be successful. We knew they were going to come out with a little bit of a push, and they did. I thought we did a pretty good job responding to them.”
The Islanders will hit the road, where they have been among the best in the Eastern Conference this season at 8-4-1, for the next four games. First up is the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, March 26 at 7:00 p.m.
Notes: Eight different Islanders finished with exactly one point … The Islanders went 1-for-2 on the power play, and killed off both Florida man advantages … Lubomir Visnovsky led the Islanders with 23:01 of ice time … The Islanders out-hit the Panthers 34-16, with Colin McDonald recording eight and Matt Martin six … The Islanders blocked eight shots overall; Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic led the way with four apiece.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
14 Tomas Fleischmann - 57 Marcel Goc - 82 Tomas Kopecky
11 Jonathan Huberdeau - 15 Drew Shore - 88 Peter Mueller
19 Scottie Upshall - 18 Shawn Matthias - 13 Mike Santorelli
42 Quinton Howden - 25 Jerred Smithson - 37 Greg Rallo
51 Brian Campbell - 23 Tyson Strachan
17 Filip Kuba - 7 Dmitry Kulikov
47 Colby Robak - 44 Erik Gudbrandson
35 Jacob Markstrom
30 Scott Clemmensen