Despite a three-point game from Thomas Vanek, the Islanders could not hold a third-period lead, falling 5-3 to the Florida Panthers Sunday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum.
Vanek scored twice in the opening frame and assisted on Ryan Strome’s second-period goal, but the Islanders 3-1 lead evaporated as the Panthers scored four goals in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s frustrating,” Vanek said. “I thought we played a good game. We got the lead and we were working hard. We had a lot of chances to make it 4-1 and 5-1… If you don’t bury a team they’ll get back in it.”
The 3-1 lead vanished in a 1:02 span, as Marcel Goc and Shawn Matthias beat goalie Anders Nilsson to tie the score at three. Goc scored on a long wrister that deflected off Matt Carkner’s leg and under the crossbar, while Matthias got behind Andrew MacDonald in close and beat Nilsson one-on-one. Scottie Upshall scored the Panthers next two goals; he and Matthias each finished the game with two goals and an assist.
“The way that we are losing is frustrating to me because it isn’t a structural problem or a systematic function of what we are doing,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “We mismanaged the puck.”
The conclusion hardly reflected the rock ‘em, sock ‘em, fiery first period from the Islanders, which saw 22 combined penalty minutes in the first three minutes and a 2-0 Islanders lead shortly after.
Vanek scored twice in 58 seconds, beating Tim Thomas cleanly to the top corner for his first and deflecting a Lubomir Visnovsky shot on the power play for his second. The goals were Vanek’s 20th and 21st of the season, cementing his ninth straight campaign with at least 20.
Armed with a 2-0 lead, the Islanders went on a two-minute, five-on-three power play, but were unable to add to their lead.
“I thought we had some good looks, but also some looks that we passed up,” Capuano said.
Matthias knocked in a Jonathan Huberdeau rebound to put the Panthers on the board late in the second period, but Strome answered for the Islanders 59 seconds later. The Islanders rookie was in good position at the top of the crease and slid his second-career goal under Tim Thomas with 46 seconds to play in the second period.
“We had chances and you have to bury,” Strome said. “If you don’t put teams away, they will come back and haunt you.”
Nilsson finished the game with 29 saves, while Thomas made 35 in the win.
The Islanders now embark on a four-game Western Canadian road trip, starting in Winnipeg on Tuesday night. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. eastern time.
NOTES: Frans Nielsen returned to the lineup after missing two games with a broken hand… Travis Hamonic missed Sunday’s game while serving a one-game suspension… Andrew MacDonald led the Islanders with 25:56 TOI… Thomas Vanek had a team-high seven shots.