Islanders beat Panthers, 4-3, after taking 3-0 lead

Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo celebrates after he

Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo celebrates after he scored a goal against the Florida Panthers during the first period. (March 16, 2013) (Credit: AP)

The bottom line says the Islanders grabbed all four points available on their two-game Florida jaunt after a 4-3 win over the Panthers Saturday night.

The Islanders are over .500 for the first time since the second week of the season. They leapfrogged the Rangers and sit two points out of eighth and three points out of sixth in the Eastern Conference.

The fine print of Saturday night's win is a little bit more complicated. The Islanders tried to coast out of here while up 3-0 early in the third, only to sag back while the Panthers scored three times in 1:43 to tie it. Casey Cizikas' goal with 7:55 to play was the winner, but only after a hairy final minute.

"We need points, bottom line," said Brad Boyes, who scored his eighth only 33 seconds into the second to give the Islanders a three-goal lead. "This isn't game two or three of the season, where we can afford to play well and not win, or just hope to get lucky. We need wins, we need points, and that's what we got."

They got the points through the effort of a makeshift grind line. Keith Aucoin, Cizikas and Colin McDonald provided the energy, and they got the puck in deep on the Panthers with the score tied 3-3.

Cizikas chipped it behind the net to McDonald, who reversed quickly and caught three Panthers players and goaltender Scott Clemmensen moving the other way. Cizikas drilled one from the short side to restore the lead.

The line got out of some trouble later in the third, with Aucoin flinging himself to block two shots with less than three minutes to go.

"It was just a matter of stopping the bleeding, get back to work, and that's what Casey's line did," said Evgeni Nabokov, who made 27 saves. "That's what Casey's line has been doing all season."

It was quite clear what happened in that 103-second stretch when the Islanders turned a cakewalk into a nail-biter: They stopped attacking and started watching as the Panthers, a team at the bottom of the NHL standings that has been beset by injuries and poor play, started driving the net.

T.J. Brennan converted a rebound while standing untouched in the slot at 5:09. Marcel Goc slammed home a feed after Tomas Fleischmann easily won a puck battle along the boards at 5:43. And Mike Santorelli cruised in to finish off a rush with an easy rebound goal at 6:52, tying what had been a game in which the Islanders, while far from perfect, had worked smartly to generate chances and keep the Panthers on the perimeter.

"You have to learn from games like this one," said Cizikas, who has four goals and 11 points this season. "You can't take 10 minutes off against anyone in this league. You lose focus and teams are going to take advantage."

The Panthers took an early 7-1 shots advantage, thanks to a first-period power play, but could not score. Then the Islanders found that focus. Kyle Okposo rifled home a feed from Frans Nielsen at 15:26 of the first to open the scoring, and Radek Martinek snapped home a shot from the point at 17:59 to give the Isles a 2-0 lead after one.

It grew to three quickly in the second, and the Isles closed out the opening 40 minutes with a good work ethic. They finished with the same hard work and a crucial win to show for it, returning to the Island for a four-game homestand with a chance to crack the top eight in the East.

"We made our mistakes and we'll talk about them," Boyes said. "But we got what we came for."

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