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Islanders grab four-goal lead, hold off Hurricanes

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C. -- For the first 11 minutes of the game, the New York Islanders demonstrated what happens when youthful enthusiasm takes over. The rest of the game had its ups and downs, but New York will take the result.

The Islanders raced to a 4-0 first-period lead, then held on to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-4 at PNC Arena on Tuesday night.

Playing on a line with center Ryan Strome, Colin McDonald and Matt Martin each scored twice, and Strome and Thomas Hickey added two assists apiece for the Islanders, now 13-4-1 in their past 18 road games.

"You could tell it was going to be a bit of a crazy game, just how it started," Martin said. "It was a back-and-forth game. Obviously, you never want to give up a 4-0 lead, but we held on and found a way to win."

With several veterans injured, the Islanders were counting on a lineup that featured nine rookies and a dozen players under the age of 25. That may have played a role in allowing the Hurricanes to cut the deficit to 4-3 early in the second period.

"We let them back in the game," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "But we've got some pretty young players on our team right now. We're trying to stay the course and play structured and teach and work hard."

That work ethic was relentless in the early part of the game.

McDonald started the scoring with his seventh of the season at 3:39. Strome won a draw back to the point, where Hickey threaded a shot through traffic. McDonald found the loose puck in the crease and pushed it past Cam Ward for a 1-0 lead.

Cal Clutterbuck made it 2-0 at 5:26 on a similar play. Travis Hamonic's shot from the right point was redirected by Josh Bailey and buried in front by Clutterbuck for his 11th goal.

The Hurricanes' loose defensive play continued when Calvin de Haan circled the net and found McDonald alone on a back-door play for his second of the game at 6:12. That spelled the end of the night for Ward, who slammed his stick on the ice in frustration. He faced nine shots before giving way to Anton Khudobin.

"I think we went to the net hard and we capitalized," Capuano said. "They pulled the goalie, but I don't think he could have done anything."

The Islanders kept the offense coming. Kevin Czuczman fired a shot at Khudobin, who thought he had directed the shot to the corner. Instead, the rebound fell to Martin, who hit the net for his sixth of the season at 10:54. Czuczman's assist was the first point of his career in his third NHL game. He signed a professional contract March 11 after finishing his collegiate career at Lake Superior State University.

The Hurricanes, who were outshot 10-0 through the first nine-plus minutes, finally slowed the Islanders with a quick power-play strike. Jeff Skinner needed nine seconds of the man advantage to follow his shot from the slot with a backhander past New York goalie Anders Nilsson at 12:38 for his 27th of the season.

Andrei Loktionov cut the lead to 4-2 with a nice individual effort. He burst past Hamonic at the New York blue line before pulling Nilsson out of position and slipping in a forehand shot from a tight angle at 15:06.

Carolina made it a one-goal game early in the second when the Islanders took their second delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. Jordan Staal fed a back-door pass to Alexander Semin, who found room inside the post at 2:42.

That's when the Islanders sharpened their game.

"We've been struggling to hold on to leads all year, so we looked at it as another challenge for us," McDonald said. "With a lot of young guys playing on the team now, it's just another chance to gain some experience and keep getting better."

Martin scored his second goal of the night at 16:57, taking a pass from Strome behind the net to give the Islanders a 5-3 lead. The breathing room didn't last for long; the Hurricanes answered 22 seconds later when Nathan Gerbe popped a bouncing puck over Nilsson's shoulder for his 16th goal, tying his career high.

The Islanders clamped down in the third period, limiting the Hurricanes to six shots. Nilsson, who admitted to being a little off-balance in net, made a key save on Skinner, whose shot from between the circles was the last of seven on the night.

"As the game went on, I felt more comfortable," said Nilsson, who finished with 24 saves. "It's small things that are the difference between a goal and a save, so I was a little lucky to make a couple saves in the last period."

With the loss, the Hurricanes (31-32-9) neared mathematical elimination from playoff contention. The sloppy start to the game drew criticism from coach Kirk Muller.

"Somewhere along the line, we have to learn that we have to initiate hockey games rather than sit back and see what kind of games they are going to be," Muller said. "It's a mystery why we come out so hesitant and afraid to play in the first period."

Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison was blunt in his assessment.

"It's unexplainable, the effort we had," he said. "We clearly weren't ready to go. The accountability within the room is coming to a point where this can't be tolerated. That's all that can be said. It's short and sweet."

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