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Isles edge Panthers in shootout

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — Same move, same frustrating result for the Florida Panthers.

For the second time in three nights, the Panthers lost a shootout at home against a team near the bottom of its conference when the only goal was scored with a high backhand off a deke.

After Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the game-winner for Edmonton on Friday night, Frans Nielsen scored for the New York Islanders to secure a 3-2 victory over the Southeast Division-leading Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center on Sunday.

"We're frustrated," said veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski. "We'd like to get four out of four points. It's two teams that are below us in the standings that we feel that we should beat."

The Panthers lost their third in a row following a season-high five-game winning streak. Their lead over Washington in the Southeast Division was cut to three points with the Capitals shutting out Minnesota 3-0 Sunday. Florida has seven games remaining; Washington has six.

The Panthers will now embark on a four-game road trip against Montreal, Minnesota, Columbus and Detroit before wrapping up the regular season with three games against division opponents.

If the Panthers fall short in their bid to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, they can look back at all the points lost in shootouts. After Sunday's loss, they're 5-10 this season.

"Unfortunately for us, the shootout has been a little bit of a stickler this year," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "Obviously, we approach that in different manners and it still continues to be a little bit of an issue for us and something that we have enjoy getting out and enjoy being a part of. That's a big difference when you are engaged in that shootout and feel like you're going out there with a little swagger to it. Right now, when things don't always fall on our side, there's a little tightness when it comes to the shootout."

Evgeni Nabokov stopped John Madden, Wojtek Wolski and Marcel Goc in the shootout, with the Islanders clinching the victory when Goc's backhand off a deke went wide.

The Islanders are now 7-4 in shootouts this season.

"Shootouts is one of those things," Nabokov said. "You either feel good or don't feel good."

Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo scored in regulation for the Islanders, who won for only the third time in nine games (3-4-2) and are headed for their fifth consecutive season out of the playoffs.

Nabokov stopped 33 shots in regulation and overtime.

"You still want to win hockey games and play hard, keep building," Nielsen said. "We can't just lay down and die. We have to keep playing. It's still the NHL, it's still where you want to be and still fun to play. We're going to work our hardest every night and see where it takes us."

Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann scored for the Panthers, who haven't won since a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia last Tuesday. Tomas Kopecky had two assists.

Florida has been held to two goals or less in each of its last five games, including a 3-2 shootout victory over Buffalo on March 17.

Theodore, making his 10th start in Florida's last 11 games, made 35 saves.

"We've just got to find a way to score some goals," Weiss said. "We're not scoring enough goals. Whatever that is, whatever the formula is, we've got to find a way to put the puck in the net and get some more run support for our goalies because they're playing great. We've just got to find a way to score some goals. We're getting chances, but we're just not bearing down."

The Islanders dominated the overtime period and had a great chance when Michael Grabner found himself with an open net from the slot. But Theodore took it away when he appeared to throw his stick towards Grabner, which could have been a penalty shot. No call was made, however.

Fleischmann’s goal gave Florida a 2-1 lead at 9:51 of the third period on a seemingly harmless wrist shot from inside the top of the right circle. Fleischmann set a new career high with his 24th goal of the season when the puck found its way between Nabokov's legs.

"It's tough right now," Fleischmann said. "We've got to find a way to put up some scoring. It's just a one-goal difference in the hockey game. We didn't come (away) with the win."

The Islanders tied it at 12:22 when defenseman Dmitry Kulikov accidentally tipped Okposo's centering pass to streaking defenseman Mark Streit between Theodore's legs.

"We have to realize that the pride and the parity in this League is right there and you've got to be ready to go every night," Jovanovski said. "We were tonight. For the first 10 minutes, we were a great hockey team, kind of tinkering with it in the second a little bit, and then grabbing the lead in the third and then just a tough break off Kuli having the stick in the right lane and gets (in) off his blade."

Weiss opened the scoring at 5:55 of the first period when he extended his point streak to six games (3 goals, 4 assists), one short of his career high. Weiss scored on a one-timer from the side of the net off a feed from Fleischmann.

Moulson tied the game with a power-play goal with 1:04 left in the second period. His one-timer from the slot was his 34th goal of the season and his sixth in seven games.

John Tavares had the primary assist on Moulson's tally. Tavares now has 75 points in 75 games this season, the most points by an Islander since 2002, when Alexei Yashin finished with the same total.

The Islanders' victory came one night after they squandered a third-period lead in a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay.

"Our game plan doesn't change and that's the way we have to continue to play," coach Jack Capuano said. "That's one of the quickest teams we have played. They are a fast hockey team. I thought we did a good job of tracking and in all areas. They played well enough to win, too."
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