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Panthers fend off Isles for 4-2 win

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers were going through pregame warm-ups when GM Dale Tallon traded fan favorite David Booth in the hopes of providing a spark after his team's back-to-back shutout losses.

On this night at least, Tallon got the response he wanted.

Goalie Jacob Markstrom stopped 18 shots in the third period for his first NHL victory, and Shawn Matthias had a goal and two assists as the Panthers beat the New York Islanders 4-2 Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"For me, to have it happen late in the day is hard on David, it's hard on us, that we've got to go out and perform," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "That's hard when you get that kind of a curveball right before you get off from warm-up, and I sure like the response of the team."

In snapping their two-game losing streak, the Panthers got major contributions from two unlikely sources.

Markstrom was on the bench when the game began and only came in after Jose Theodore had to leave because of a lower-body injury. Theodore faced only 10 shots in the first two periods.

Along with stopping a Michael Grabner breakaway, Markstrom also made several big saves during three Islanders power plays. Included in that was a 5-for-3 for 43 seconds.

"Extremely happy for him to get his first win," Dineen said. "He's a real enthusiastic young kid. You run through a lot of kids that you like as people, but this kid can play and I think he put a real exclamation point on that tonight."

Matthias, for his part, was back in the lineup after missing the 3-0 loss to Buffalo on Thursday because of the flu.

Matthias said he still wasn't feeling 100 percent as the game began, but it was hard to tell from his performance.

"Felt like death a couple of days ago," Matthias said. "It's nice to respond like that. Kevin talked to me in the morning, he said he wanted a big game out of me. With Boother being traded, there's an open spot on a higher line and he needed a solid effort out of me even though I was sick, and I think I responded well. It was a good team effort and it was a big win for us.

"I still felt a little under the weather. It's a virus and it's going to take a couple of days to get some more food in me, but I feel pretty good right now."

Before scoring an empty-netter with 24.3 seconds left, Matthias set up Tim Kennedy's game-winner 4:00 into the third period.

Kris Versteeg and Matt Bradley also scored for the Panthers, who lost to Washington on Tuesday by the same 3-0 score.

Mark Streit and John Tavares scored power-play goals for the Islanders, who lost their second consecutive game in the Sunshine State. New York dropped a 4-1 decision at Tampa Bay on Thursday.

"We had opportunities," Tavares said. "We have to find a way to score. We had chances. We were outplayed most of the night, so for sure we have to find a way to capitalize."

Streit scored on a power-play slapper 1:01 into the game. Versteeg tied it at 14:39, and Matt Bradley put home a backhander at 13:39 of the second period to give the Panthers their first lead. But it lasted only 53 seconds — Tavares tipped Streit's straightaway slapper into the net for his sixth goal of the season.

Evgeni Nabokov, making his second start in net for the Islanders, stopped 29 shots. He remained tied for 27th all-time in career victory with Mike Liut with 294.

"I thought Nabokov played great for us," said Islanders coach Jack Capuano. "He weathered the storm in the first period and gave us a chance to win. Third period we had some chances, but it was too little, too late."

Florida outshot the Islanders 24-10 through two periods, but the Islanders had an 18-8 margin in the third period.

"I don't think you can ask for much more," Kennedy said of Markstrom's performance. "He didn't play the first two periods, he comes in kind of cold, he has a breakaway there, that 5-on-3, two power plays there. That was a huge win for us, and a huge period for him."

In the winning locker room, Weiss looked over to the space once occupied by Booth and reflected on the trade.

"Anytime a teammate gets moved, let alone a guy that's been here for a long time with you, it's tough," said Weiss, the longest-tenured player on the Panthers. "Just didn’t get a chance to see him after the game. I came in looking for him after warm-up and I guess he was already gone. That was the worst part. He's kind of just gone and you don't get a chance to wish him luck and stuff."
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