The New York Islanders watched another third period lead disappear and fell to the Florida Panthers 5-3 at the Nassau Coliseum Sunday afternoon. Thomas Vanek had two goals and an assist in the game for the Isles who led 3-1 after 40 minutes. After the game, Vanek realized this could be his last home game as an Islander.
“You think about things like that. It’s tough but I try to block it out as best as I can,”Vanek admitted. “But, right now, this loss just stings.”
Then Vanek took a deep breath and pondered his time on Long Island. “I have enjoyed my time here. It’s never easy,” he said. “Even though it’s been a short time, I’ve still been here for a good part of the season and I’ve got to know the guys and the coaching staff has been great. You try to block it out but it’s hard to.”
The trade deadline is on Wednesday afternoon and the Islanders have only one more game on the schedule before then, a road game Tuesday night in Winnipeg. The next time Vanek steps on the ice at the Nassau Coliseum, it will likely be in a visiting uniform.
If this was his farewell performance, the Austrian forward gave his all. He scored the first two goals of the game and then set up Ryan Strome’s second period score to give the Isles a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Anders Nilsson made 20 saves in the first 40 minutes, allowing only one goal by Shawn Matthias. But then, in the third period, the Islanders collapsed again.
The Islanders have now been outscored 71-52 in the third period this season and are just 8-5-4 in games which they are leading after the second period.
Marcel Goc made it 3-2 at the 3:16 mark of the final stanza and then Matthias tied the game 1:02 later. The final two goals were by Scottie Upshall who tallied the game winner with 9:29 left in the third period and iced it with a power play tally with 4:34 remaining.
“I don’t think we changed the way we played, I thought we played hard,” rookie forward Ryan Strome said when asked about the third period. “You’ve got to find a way to bounce back whether they score one or two, you’ve got to keep going. It’s definitely frustrating.”
What made it more frustrating was that the Islanders did have their chances. One of the biggest was a full two-minute 5-0n-3 power play midway through the first period while the team already held a 2-0 lead.
“When you have a 5-on-3, you’re supposed to score. We didn’t,” Vanek said. “But even after that we played well. If you don’t bury a team, they’ll get back in it somehow.”
Coach Jack Capuano also felt his team deserved better. “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,” Capuano said. “We mismanaged the puck.”
The Islanders will likely see their cast change between now and Wednesday afternoon’s trade deadline. Vanek and defenseman Andrew MacDonald are leading candidates to be traded with the return uncertain.
The Isles return to action Tuesday night when they begin a four-game road trip in Winnipeg.
The Islanders played without defenseman Tavis Hamonic who was automatically suspended one game without pay for taking an instigator penalty with less than five minutes left in Saturday’s loss to the Devils.
Scratches included Radek Martinek and Matt Martin for the Islanders, Scott Gomez and Ed Jovanovsky for the Panthers.
Attendance was 13,008.
The first period was a physical one with Eric Boulton and Krys Barch dropping the gloves at 2:25.