The New York Islanders needed a win to continue their drive toward the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference Sunday when they took on the visiting Florida Panthers. Instead, the Isles fell flat after taking an early 1-0 lead and fell 4-1. The loss leaves the Isles eight points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs who presently have the eighth and final playoff spot with 27 games remaining. Unfortunately for the Isles, they would have to pass six other teams to claim the final postseason bid.
The team’s leaders continue to search for answers. “We’re just missing a little poise and drive,” captain Mark Streit said. “We had a big opportunity today. It’s painful. We set ourselves up yesterday with a big win but today we just couldn’t follow up today.”
“You give up two faceoff goals and a power play goal and you’re not going to win many games,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano added.
Early on, it looked like the Islanders would rise to the occasion when P.A. Parenteau feathered a pretty pass to Frans Nielsen who beat Panthers goalie Jose Theodore with a wrist shot from the right circle to give New York a 1-0 lead just 3:35 into the contest. Unfortunately, it was the only goal the home team would score on the afternoon.
Tyson Strachan evened the score with 5:03 left in the first period on a goal that came right off the faceoff. Marcel Goc won the draw and got it back to Strachan who blasted a shot from the right point that deflected in off Isles defenseman Steve Staios. After 20 minutes, the game was all even at 1-1.
The Panthers put the game away in the second period with three goals on just six shots. The first was the most artistic goal of the game and was started on a rush by Stephen Weiss who fed Kris Versteeg on the wing. Versteeg sent a cross ice pass to Tomas Fleischmann who redirected the puck into the open side of the net at 4:17 of the second stanza.
A power play goal by Versteeg added to the lead at 11:41. With Matt Martin in the penalty box for roughing, Versteeg beat Evgeni Nabokov with a wrist shot from the right circle that put Florida ahead 3-1.
Jack Skille added the final tally with another goal right off a faceoff with just 1:27 left in the second period to give the Panthers their final 4-1 margin.
The Isles played with a bit more heart in the third period, outshooting the visitors 11-4, but they were unable to capitalize on any of their chances and were booed often by a disappointed crowd of 14,179 as the final minutes ticked off the clock.
Frustration is clearly setting into the Isles locker room as they lost another chance to pick up vital points against one of the teams they are fighting for playoff position.
“These games are so important this time of the year because of where we are in the standings,” John Tavares said. “There’s no excuse for us not to be ready to play or not have our feet moving right off the bat. We have to improve in that area.”
“We didn’t come out and play very hard today,” admitted Matt Martin. “We knew what was at stake…We have to kind of take a look in the mirror and figure out what we want to be. We want to be a playoff team so we’ve got to come out every night from here on out and give our best effort.”
The Islanders head on the road Tuesday to face the Winnipeg Jets. The Panthers return to action Wednesday when they host the Ottawa Senators.
Bill Torrey, the Isles original GM and the architect of their four Stanley Cup winning teams, was in attendance today. Torrey now works for the Panthers organization.
Al Montoya played the third period in net for the Isles, replacing Nabokov. Montoya stopped all four shots that he faced.
The Panthers have now won all three meetings with the Islanders this season. The two teams meet for a final time March 25 in Florida.