The New York Islanders are not only surviving a rash of injuries that has forced them to play a host of rookies, they're actually thriving.
Mike Halmo, one of 10 rookies among the 20 players dressed for the game, scored his first NHL goal in the third period, helping the Islanders beat the Florida Panthers 4-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night.
The Islanders are without star center John Tavares and first-line right wing Kyle Okposo, as well as second-line forward Michael Grabner and veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky due to injury. They also traded Thomas Vanek to the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5.
But the rookie-laden Islanders are now 4-0-1 in their past five games, their best stretch of the season.
Josh Bailey had a goal and an assist, Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin also scored, and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 20 shots, allowing a first-period shorthanded goal to Quinton Howden and a power-play goal by Brandon Pirri with 5.9 seconds to play.
"The kids are getting their opportunity," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "They've got to make the most of that opportunity going forward."
Scott Clemmensen made 36 saves for the Panthers, who dropped their fourth game in a row and second in as many nights.
"We let them capitalize on too many chances," Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. "We have to stay positive and try to end the season with better efforts."
Florida played its final road game; all of the Panthers' five remaining games are at BB&T Center. However, the Panthers were forced to stay in New York overnight due to plane problems.
Panthers rookie defenseman Jonathan Racine, making his NHL debut, took an interference penalty 42 seconds after the opening faceoff, and each team scored a goal while he was in the box.
Howden gave the Panthers the lead at 1:50 with an excellent individual effort. He stripped defenseman Matt Donovan at the left point, raced in and snapped a shot from between the hash marks that beat Nabokov cleanly for his fourth of the season.
But the Islanders still had 52 seconds of power-play time against the NHL's worst penalty-killing unit, and they put it to good use. Hamonic got his third goal of the season at 2:35 when his wrister from the right point went through traffic and past Clemmensen.
"To get the tying goal was big," Capuano said. "It's real simple, shoot the puck. ... The surge started to go our way a bit there."
Bailey, who won the draw that led to Hamonic's goal, put the Islanders ahead 11:18 into the second period after some hard word by his linemates. Ryan Strome controlled the puck behind the net and fed an oncoming Colin McDonald, whose shot was stopped by Clemmensen. But Bailey found the rebound and snapped it home for his first goal since March 10 and eighth of the season.
Bailey's struggles mirror those of the Islanders, who regressed after qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
"Guys have done a good job keeping each other up, keeping the spirits up even though it can be tough," Bailey said. "When you think about last year down the stretch and how much fun it was, it's difficult. We definitely don't want to find ourselves here ever again, but you've still got a job to do."
McDonald did most of the work on Martin's goal at 17:36. He tapped the puck past Racine at the left point, raced deep into the circle in Florida's zone and took a bad-angled shot that hit Clemmensen's pads. Martin was unchecked as he raced down the slot and hammered in the rebound for his career-high eighth goal of the season.
"I thought we regrouped after the first period," Capuano said. "We got on the body, got pucks to the net and got it done."
Halmo scored his first NHL goal 4:21 into the third, batting his own rebound out of the air and past Clemmensen to finish a 2-on-1 break.
"They kept coming at us, kept crashing the crease," Clemmensen said. "They never stopped working, never gave up on plays all night."
The Panthers lost Brad Boyes, their leading goal-scorer, when his back tightened up late in the first period. Boyes has been dealing with a bad back and was a game-time decision. Forward Scottie Upshall also left in the first period after being hit in the face by New York's Matt Carkner, but returned in the second period and finished the game despite a sore jaw.
"Losing guys right off the bat puts you behind from the start because you're mixing and matching,'' Florida interim coach Peter Horachek said of losing two of his top forwards, although Upshall returned. "That put us a little bit behind the eight-ball, but other guys went out and had opportunities. It's not an easy situation.''
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report.