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Islanders finish home-and-home sweep of Hurricanes

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders have stressed the need to get off to a good start after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. Second-year center Brock Nelson is more than doing his part.

Nelson scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and had an assist, leading the Islanders to a 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday and a sweep of their season opening home-and-home series.

"It's a good start for us," said Nelson, who has three goals and six points in two games after scoring 14 goals and finishing with 26 points as a rookie. "There are a few areas we need to clean up, but we had a good power play and a couple of big penalty kills."

John Tavares also had a goal and an assist, enabling the Islanders to survive a hat trick by Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty and win their final home opener at the Coliseum.

"This place means a lot," Tavares said of the Islanders' home since they entered the NHL in 1972. "It's been through a lot, the people have been through a lot."

Nelson had two goals and two assists in New York's 5-3 victory at Raleigh on Friday. One night later, he assisted on Tavares' first-period power-play goal and scored his third goal in two games when Johnny Boychuk's second-period power-play blast hit him and went past goaltender Anton Khudobin, breaking a 2-2 tie.

"He's in great condition and has a high hockey IQ," coach Jack Capuano said of Nelson, the 30th player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft. "He's been solid defensively and that has helped him create offense for himself."

Cory Conacher and Josh Bailey scored for the Islanders, who are 2-0-0 for the first time since sweeping a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Sabres to start the 2007-08 season. Chad Johnson made 21 saves in his first game with the Islanders, who are moving to Brooklyn next fall.

Nelson said the loud crowd of 16,170 made a difference.

"Everybody was excited to come and play, and then during warm-ups, [the fans] were loud from the get-go," Nelson said. "We were able to feed off their energy. Having a crowd like that behind you definitely helps."

Jiri Tlusty had a hat trick and Khudobin stopped 27 shots for Carolina, which is 0-2-0 for the first time since 2009-10.

"The effort was fine. We worked hard, but now we have to learn to work smart," coach Bill Peters said. "It's not good enough, obviously."

The Islanders, who were 2-for-3 on the power play in their victory Friday, capitalized on their first chance in the rematch. With Nathan Gerbe off for slashing, Tavares took a pass from Nelson, moved into the left circle and blew a slap shot past Khudobin at 3:50. It was his first of the season and 14th in 19 career games against the Hurricanes.

Johnson, signed as a free agent during the summer, had the packed house chanting his name a few minutes later when he went left-to-right and robbed Tlusty on a 2-on-1 break. But Tlusty got his revenge at 14:13 when he whipped a power-play wrist shot from the slot past a helpless Johnson for his first goal of the season.

The Islanders regained the lead 31 seconds later after the Hurricanes got sloppy in their own zone. Khudobin casually knocked aside Kyle Okposo's long wrist shot, but Tavares raced past the defense, grabbed the rebound and slid a pass across the slot to Conacher, who put the puck into an open net for his first goal with the Islanders.

The Hurricanes got even again with 17 seconds left in the period when Tlusty tapped Eric Staal's cross-crease feed into a wide-open net, capping a power play that saw Carolina control the puck for nearly a minute before scoring.

"The power play has been good," Peters said. "It's continued on through the preseason and into the regular season, and we expect it to continue to be good. We've got to shore up the other areas of our game."

Staal left the game in the third period with an upper-body injury and forward Patrick Dwyer sustained a lower-body injury. Peters did not have an update on either player after the game.

New York went ahead for the third time at 6:47 of the second period with its second power-play goal. After Alexander Semin's offensive-zone high-sticking penalty put the Islanders up a man, Nelson got a piece of Boychuk's straightaway 50-foot slap shot and deflected it past Khudobin for his third of the season. The assist was the fourth in two games for Boychuk, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins one week ago. He also had a goal in the opener.

"He's a leader and he comes from a great organization," Capuano said of Boychuk. "With his shot, when the penalty killers try to take him away, it opens up areas down low."

Bailey finished off a perfect backhand pass from Frans Nielsen with 3.5 seconds left in the period to make it 4-2 after 40 minutes. The Hurricanes had dominated play in the final minutes of the middle period, but paid the price for a turnover that led to a 3-on-2 rush.

"A goal with three seconds left in the second is not the way you want to finish the period," Peters said. "We have to focus, and we have to be smart. We had a great offensive shift, but one little turnover and it's back in our face."

The Islanders dominated the first 13 minutes of the third period but couldn't beat Khudobin again, and Carolina made it a one-goal game when Johnson poked a loose puck onto Tlusty's stick for an easy put-away at 14:01.

Holding leads was a problem for the Islanders last season; they lost 12 games when leading after two periods and 13 when they couldn't hold a two-goal lead. But they survived a late Carolina push in each game to complete the sweep.

"I liked the way we stayed with things tonight," Tavares said. "We competed hard. Guys were hard on pucks, we competed and battled through adversity. I like the way there was composure and that the mindset stayed the same and that the work ethic was there."


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