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Islanders blow late lead but beat Panthers in shootout

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. — The New York Islanders finally gave up a goal, but they still kept winning.

Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo scored in the shootout and the Islanders beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 at BB&T?Center on Friday for their fifth consecutive victory.

Nielsen and Okposo scored in the first two rounds of the tiebreaker, and the Islanders clinched the victory when Jaroslav Halak stopped Brad Boyes in the second half of the third round. Jonathan Huberdeau had Florida’s only goal in the shootout.

John Tavares, Ryan Strome and Nikolay Kulemin scored in regulation for the Islanders, whose winning streak is their longest since Feb. 12-26, 2008, when they won six in a row. They can match that by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

“We’re confident and whoever gets on the ice gets an opportunity to generate some momentum or a scoring chance or a big goal or a big save or a defensive play,”???Tavares said. “We had a lot of that tonight. We know we can still be a lot better, but a win feels good.”

Halak, who came into the game after consecutive shutouts against the Arizona Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche, made 35 saves through 65 minutes. He came up big in overtime when he made nine saves and helped the Islanders kill off a penalty for the last 1:03 of the extra period, then stopped Jussi Jokinen in the shootout before his save on Boyes.

“I???think that when you look around the League and the teams that are winning hockey games, it starts in the net,”???Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “Jaro has been there for us. Jaro is obviously playing with a little bit more confidence. At the start of the year there were a few goals that he’d love to have back and I???love the fact that he comes every day and he competes and he just wants to get better.”

New York (11-5-0)???matched a franchise record with its 11th victory in the first 16 games, but fell a little less than six minutes short of the franchise record for longest shutout streak. It’s the fifth time the Islanders have won 11 of their first 16; they also did it in 1976-77, 1982-83, 1987-88 and 2001-02.

Jimmy Hayes’ goal at 12:37 of the first period snapped the Islanders’ streak without allowing a goal at 193:48; the record of 199:24 was set in 1998.

Brian Campbell and Aaron Ekblad scored in the third period for the Panthers (5-4-5), who begin a four-game road trip Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks. Jokinen and Vincent Trocheck each had two assists. Florida goalie Roberto Luongo made 30 saves and moved past John Vanbiesbrouck into fifth place on the NHL’s all-time saves list.

The Islanders are now 3-0 in shootouts this season; Florida is 0-2.

“We showed a lot of character, being down two goals late and we stuck with it,”???Luongo said. “It was a huge comeback for us but I’ve got to find a way to make some saves in the shootout. It’s not acceptable for me to let in two.

“The most you want to give up is one goal. I’ve been working on it a lot and feeling good about it, but for some reason it didn’t come to fruition for me. Give the boys credit for battling back but I’ve got to do a better job out there.”

Left wing Josh Bailey, who missed eight games with a hand injury, returned to the lineup for the Islanders and had the second assist on Tavares’ goal.

“Felt good,”?????????Bailey said. “Felt like I didn’t miss a beat really. With the injury I was still able to skate the entire time. I think I?????????only had one day off after the injury and I was back skating. The conditioning felt good, it was just getting a few shifts under my belt and getting some timing back.”

The Islanders led 3-1 after Kulemin’s goal at 3:57 of the third period, but Campbell began Florida’s comeback with his first goal of the season at 9:58. He beat Halak with a wrist shot over the left shoulder from the left circle.

“I’ve been in a struggle; it’s nice to feel I’m starting to escape the last couple of games and play the way I’m capable of,”?????????Campbell said. “Just got to keep working hard. It’s nice to chip in and help the team out.”

Ekblad tied the game with 2:25 remaining in the third period when his slap shot from the right point found its way past Halak, who was screened by Hayes.

Ekblad, the first player taken in the 2014 NHL?????????Draft, has five points (one goal, four assists) in the past three games.

“The kid’s got confidence and he’s playing well,”?????????Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s got some offensive instincts and he made a great shot.”

Kulemin made it 3-1 when he put home the rebound of Johnny Boychuk’s wrist shot from the point while getting checked to the ice. Kulemin hit the post with a wrist shot from the slot a few minutes later.

“Obviously having the lead in the third period, leading 3-1, you want to finish the game,”?????????Halak said. “We had a chance. We hit the (post) but it just didn’t go in. They got the goal, 3-2, and all of a sudden it’s a different story. It could have been 4-1 and could have been another game. Usually that’s what happens. You don’t score and they come and they score.”

Florida came in having allowed the fewest goals (31)?????????in the NHL?????????but was also tied for last in goals scored (24).

Hayes scored for a third consecutive game when he redirected Trocheck’s backhand pass from behind the net.

Tavares tied the game at 13:09 of the second after Okposo emerged from a scrum in the left circle with the puck and slid it across the slot to Tavares, who one-timed a shot past Luongo.

Strome gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 15:08 with a breakaway goal set up by a superb pass from defenseman Thomas Hickey. He hit Strome in stride just across the red line, past diving Florida defenseman Dylan Olsen, with a pass from behind his goal line. Strome then beat Luongo by deking to his forehand and sliding the puck between the goalie's legs.

The Panthers almost tied it on the power play later in the second period when Aleksander Barkov's backhand from close range found its way onto Halak's neck, but the goalie was able to pin the against the puck against the crossbar and keep it from crossing the goal line. The ruling on the ice was confirmed after video review.

Luongo kept the score at 2-1 early in the third period when he stopped Nielsen on a breakaway with Florida on the power play.

“Tonight we didn’t finish the hockey game the way we would have liked to, the last 10 minutes or in overtime, but we just stuck with it,”???????????????????????????Tavares said. “The penalty kill came up big and guys just finding a way. Jaro played extremely well, made a couple of huge key saves and we found a way in the shootout.”

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