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Isles roll over Panthers 5-1

by John Kreiser
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Matt Moulson and the New York Islanders aren't quite ready to concede that they won't make the playoffs -- not with the way they've been playing since the All-Star break.

Moulson had the second hat trick of his career and Al Montoya stopped 20 shots for his second win in as many starts with the Islanders as New York beat the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Monday.

The Isles are still 14th in the East, but they've moved within 11 points of eighth-place Carolina. That's a big hill to climb, even for a team that's 8-3-0 since the break, but Moulson said the Islanders aren't ready to start looking toward next season.

"We're a cohesive bunch, and we've got that never-day-die attitude," he said. "We never quit. We're going to try to get as many wins as we can the rest of the season. It's not over until the season's done."

The Islanders have looked like a different team since the break, and especially with Montoya in goal for the past two games.

"We've been doing a great job all-around," Moulson said of the team's play. "The D has been playing great. The goalie has been playing great. We're sticking to our game plan, getting pucks in and getting in on the forecheck, and that leads to goals."

Moulson, who also scored twice on Saturday, beat Tomas Vokoun twice in the first period and capped the hat trick by scoring into an empty net with 2:37 remaining -- triggering a cascade of hats from the crowd of 13,729 at the Nassau Coliseum. His other hat trick came on Dec. 3, 2009, at Atlanta.

Moulson, a surprise 30-goal scorer in 2009-10, his first full NHL season, continues to show that  performance was no fluke. He now leads the team with 26 goals.

Montoya, acquired by the Isles from Phoenix 10 days ago after injuries wiped out their goaltending corps, wasn't severely tested but was again up to the task. The No. 6 pick in the 2004 Entry Draft now has five wins in six NHL starts, including a 3-0 victory against Los Angeles on Saturday.

"You can see the way things are going, and you want to keep in going," Montoya said. "You want to be a guy who's helping and contributing."

Montoya was less than 10 minutes away from back-to-back shutouts before Mike Santorelli scored a power-play goal with 9:26 remaining.

The Isles are still 14th, but with 53 points and eight wins in 11 games since the All-Star break, they've moved within 11 of eighth-place Carolina in the East. They also outshot Florida 37-21 -- marking only the third time in 22 games the Islanders have won when having more shots than the opposition.

"Our focus is to get as many wins as we can, and obviously that will give us the best shot of making a push," Moulson said. "We're kind of under-the-radar. Everyone talks about the Devils and the way they're playing right now -- they're the hottest team in the League.  Maybe we'll catch a couple of teams off-guard."

Florida, playing for the third time in less than three full days, fell to 3-6-2 in its last 11 and remained 11th with 57 points. 

"No excuses -- if we had them, no one would want to hear them anyway," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Credit to them. I thought they played hard.  They were the more desperate team. I don't know why -- we've got to figure that out as a group. I'm not going to let our guys off the hook, and I'm not going to discredit what they did."

Vokoun, who entered the game with a 14-4-1 lifetime record against New York, was tested early and often by an Islander team that came out with plenty of jump. The Isles just missed taking the lead 6:30 Into the game when Jack Hillen hit the post after beating Vokoun cleanly from inside the left circle.

Just 50 seconds later, they went ahead when John Tavares dug his own blocked shot off the end boards and slipped a pass to Moulson, who stuffed the puck through Vokoun's legs from just to the right of the crease. Moulson made it 2-0 at 14:58 when he beat Vokoun with a one-timer from the left faceoff dot after a perfect pass from the corner by PA Parenteau.

"I didn't have to do too much for them," he said, "and the third one was into an empty net. Three kind of easy ones."

New York continued to dominate, finishing the period with a 16-3 advantage in shots despite being unable to score in 6:20 of power-play time -- including the final 4:20 of the period after Florida's Stephen Weiss was given a major and a game misconduct for an elbow to the head of Isles defenseman Radek Martinek. However, the power play extended into the second period, and Martinek capitalized when his straightaway 60-foot slapper hit Florida forward Jack Skille's leg and skipped past Vokoun at 37 seconds -- ending the Panthers' string of consecutive penalty kills at 31.

Martinek's goal also extended the Isles' streak of scoring three or more times in a game to nine -- their longest since Feb. 27-March 17, 1994, when they did it in 10 consecutive games.

“They’re doing the right things and when you do the right things, you get rewarded,” interim coach Jack Capuano said. “They’re shooting pucks and good things happen when you get pucks to the net.”

Josh Bailey made it a 4-0 game at 6:41 thanks to some persistence.  He couldn't get off a shot on a 2-on-1 break, but regained control of the puck and skated right to left before whipping a high shot past Vokoun from the lower left circle for his ninth of the season and third in four games. 

Vokoun prevented any further damage early in the third period when he robbed rookie goal-scoring leader Michael Grabner on a pair of shorthanded chances -- the first on a 2-on-1 break with Frans Nielsen, the other after a giveaway in the slot.

Santorelli spoiled Montoya's shutout bid by whipping the carom of a blocked shot into the open left side of the net. Milan Jurcina blocked Jason Garrison's slapper from the right point, but the puck came right to Santorelli, who fired his home 17th goal.

"We didn't start as well as we wanted to," Santorelli said. "We have to put this one behind us, correct our mistakes and move forward."
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