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Islanders hang on to beat Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The New York Islanders were able to keep rolling Saturday, but not before they got a big scare.

Casey Cizikas scored with 7:05 left in the third period as the Islanders beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 after squandering a 3-0 lead in the third period at BB&T Center.

"In this League, everyone can score, every team is good," Cizikas said. "We take five, 10 minutes off and you kind of lose focus, that's what happens. It's just a perfect example of how you have to play a full 60 minutes. It's something that we can learn from."

Cizikas beat Scott Clemmensen to the short side for his fourth goal of the season after some strong board work from linemates Colin McDonald and Keith Aucoin.

Cizikas scored from the left of the net after taking a feed from McDonald.

"We worked hard enough and we were rewarded with a goal, which is always nice," Cizikas said. "But our main focus was just to get out there and try to get momentum back on our side and try to get the guys going.

"They were both working their [butts] off down low. We were just trying to cycle the puck. Mac made a great play behind the net of finding me right there. I just tried to get it off as quick as possible. It's easy being the goal scorer, but when you've got guys working their bag off for you to get that goal, it's definitely nice."

For McDonald, getting the assist on the game-winning goal provided a great capper to a roller-coaster week.

He had to sit out Thursday's 2-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning because of illness and then signed a two-year contract extension on Friday.

"That was the joke in the locker room, that I was holding out all week until I got a new deal," McDonald said. "Yeah, it's good timing, I guess. It's a good feeling to finally get the one-way contract that I've been working for for about six years now.

"It's been a little hectic. My main concern was just trying to get healthy. I just got a pretty bad stomach virus. It's really put me in bed for a couple of days. While they were doing this, they kind of opened up negotiations for us and they were talking back and forth. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but it was just a great end to a week that I'll definitely never forget."

Kyle Okposo, Radek Martinek and Brad Boyes had the other goals for the Islanders, who improved to 5-1-1 in March after suffering through a 4-9-1 February.

Evgeni Nabokov made 27 saves as he improved to 8-2-1 on the road this season.

The victory moved the Islanders past the New York Rangers into ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. It was the first time in 12 meetings in South Florida that the Islanders beat the Panthers in regulation.

"All the points right now are crucial," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "For us, it doesn't matter who we play. We've got a tough road ahead, but we can't look back and look past anybody. It's good for our guys. We had a couple of days to review some things. We came in, we played some structured hockey over the last couple of games with the exception of eight or nine minutes in this game, so we were pleased."

T.J. Brennan, Marcel Goc and Mike Santorelli scored for the Panthers, who lost for the sixth straight time (0-5-1), their longest losing streak since they went 0-7-3 late in the 2010-11 season.

The Panthers scored three goals in a span of 1:43 early in the third period, more goals than in any other game during their losing streak.

"I like that we came back and we pushed that hard," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "It made our team very emotional in a positive way. It's staying with it throughout the game. We have some highs and lows in the game and we've got to find a way to balance that out. That's an important aspect that's missing. But when you push as hard as they did to bring that game back to where it got, you're proud of them."

Florida hasn't won since beating the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 on March 5 and has fallen behind 2-0 in the first period of each game during its current losing streak.

"We've got to be better with our starts in the first period and come back with a lot of energy," Florida wing Jack Skille said. "[Our start] was fairly decent, we were getting some scoring chances, we had a lot of jump, but when you're playing against a team like that, they're really good in transition like that, you've got to make sure that you're getting pucks in deep."

The Panthers, who won the first division title in team history last season, have the worst record in the NHL at 7-16-6.

Clemmensen received a second consecutive start in net for Florida and finished with 21 saves.

Captain Ed Jovanovski returned to the Florida lineup after missing 22 games with a lower-body injury, but didn't play in the third period. The Panthers also lost enforcer George Parros to an upper-body injury in the first period after he had a fight with Islanders winger Eric Boulton.

Dineen said he would have "an announcement" on Jovanovski's status, as well as that of Parros, on Monday.

The Islanders led 3-0 before Brennan, playing in his first game with Florida after being acquired in a trade with Buffalo on Friday, started the Panthers' comeback.

Brennan scored at 5:09 of the third after rushing to the net and following up with a rebound.

"I just tried to throw one to the net and hung around and guys were on the outside and the puck kind of popped out and I threw it on net and the next thing I know it's in and guys are celebrating, so it was good," said Brennan, who didn't arrive in South Florida until late Saturday afternoon and didn't have a nameplate in the Panthers dressing room. "We got a little momentum off that. We had a lot of jump in the third, which is great, and it was great to see this team come out in the third and never say die. Not getting a point or two is tough, but a lot of character in here."

Brennan, who played for Dineen for two seasons with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League, ended up with 23:42 of ice time — second on the team behind only defenseman Brian Campbell.

It was an impressive Panthers debut for Brennan, who was selected as the second star of the game.

"That's what my expectations are as a player," Dineen said. "That's the level he's set in game one and that's what we're going to expect until our season ends this year, that he can go out there, he can log some quality minutes, he's got a good read for the ice and like a lot of people when they know they're going to get some confidence in them it makes a big difference. I think he got off to a good start tonight."

After Goc made it 3-2 at 5:43 when he one-timed Tomas Fleischmann's pass to the right side of the net, Santorelli tied the game at 6:52 when he put home a rebound after Nabokov had stopped two quick shots by Skille.

After giving up a goal in the first four minutes in each of their previous five games, the Panthers outshot the Islanders 7-1 in the first 7:10 Saturday, but the game remained scoreless until Okposo scored at 15:26.

After a turnover behind the Florida net, Frans Nielsen whipped around a no-look back that found its way to Okposo in front of the net. Okposo one-timed it between Clemmensen's legs.

Martinek scored at 17:59 after defenseman Mark Streit carried the puck deep into the Florida zone and let the Panthers players drop into coverage. Streit then fed Martinek near the blue line and his seemingly harmless one-timer found its way through traffic just inside the left post.

The Islanders made it 3-0 only 33 seconds into the second period, thanks to some luck. After a pass from John Tavares bounced off his stick, Boyes tried to feed Matt Moulson across the crease but the puck instead went in off the skate of Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky.

At that point, it looked like the Islanders were headed for a rout. Instead, the Panthers made it a game to continue their strange pattern during their losing streak — they've alternated losses by three goals or more with one-goal losses since the streak began.

"I knew they'd make a push," Capuano said. "This is a team that played Boston really tough the last couple of times we watched them in our pre-scouts, they put 40 shots up against Tampa. We blew some coverage on our rush coverage tonight. Hopefully we can learn from that.

"But we found a way to get it done. We called a timeout, raised our battle level to where it needed to be and we got a big goal from a line that worked extremely hard tonight."

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