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Tavares leads Islanders into matchup with Panthers

by John Kreiser /

ISLANDERS (7-6-6) at PANTHERS (6-9-1)

Last 10 --
New York 6-2-2; Florida 4-5-1

Season series --
The teams are meeting for the first time this season. They split four games in 2008-09, with each winning twice at home. Florida has won six of the last eight meetings and has beaten the Islanders six times in a row at the BankAtlantic Center.

Big story -- The Islanders still can't hold onto leads -- they blew a 3-0 first-period advantage at Carolina on Friday before Kyle Okposo's OT goal gave them a 4-3 victory over the reeling Hurricanes. It was the ninth time in 19 games they've gone beyond regulation time, but only the third time they've gone home with two points.

The Panthers also know a little bit about playing past regulation. They're returning home after a 1-0 shootout victory at Boston on Thursday, and three of their six wins have come in shootouts.

Team Scope:

Islanders -- Tavares comes to South Florida for the first time after his first two-goal game in the NHL. He scored twice in the first period as the Isles jumped to a 3-0 lead, which they blew before Kyle Okposo scored with 15 seconds left in overtime to win it.

Tavares now leads all rookies with 7 goals and 16 points. Though much is expected from anyone taken with the No. 1 pick, Tavares is producing more than his coach thought he would.

"Every day he's getting better," Scott Gordon said after Friday's win. "I think the sky's the limit with him. The fact that he's able to produce so early in the season -- I didn't have high expectations for the kind of production that he's bringing right now. I was hopeful. But as the year progresses, and he gets used to the finer points, the game is only going to get easier for him."

Panthers -- Tomas Vokoun has only four victories this season, but three have been shutouts -- including Thursday's shootout win at Boston in which he made 40 saves through 65 minutes, then stopped four more shots in the shootout before Cory Stillman scored against Boston's Tim Thomas to win it.

Vokoun did his best work in the second period, which ended with no score even though Boston outshot the Panthers 19-1.

"We survived the second period," Vokoun said. "After the first shootout attempt didn't go in, I thought, 'Oh, my God. It's never going to go in.'"

Who's hot --
Tavares has five points in his last three games. Vokoun is tied for the NHL lead with three shutouts.

Injury report --
Okposo came back faster than expected from the H1N1 virus to get the OT winner at Carolina on Friday. The Panthers are still without forward David Booth, who's out with a concussion.

Stat pack -- The Islanders' win at Carolina was only their sixth in their last 41 road games (6-29-6), a season's worth of action away from the Nassau Coliseum. The Isles haven't won a road game in regulation since a 2-0 victory at Detroit last March 27.

Puck drop --
It's the third game in four nights for the Islanders, who are in the midst of a seven-game trip. That doesn't bode well for New York, which has always struggled in South Florida.

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