Islanders finish strong, defeat Panthers, 3-0
This was a game the Islanders had to have. They had to finish strong and leave their recent ugly third periods behind them.
So there was Brad Boyes leveling a Panthers player on the open side of the Islanders' net in the final minute of a one-goal game.
And there was Matt Moulson kicking out his leg to block T.J. Brennan's blast on the same shift, then knocking Brennan down to retrieve the puck and get it out of the zone, leading to John Tavares' empty-netter with 30.9 seconds left.
And when Casey Cizikas added another empty-net goal with 12.8 seconds remaining, the Islanders had a 3-0 victory.
The Tavares-Moulson-Boyes line, the trio that makes the Islanders go, had been on the ice for the game-winners against in each of the previous two games, both early in the third period.
"You have to be responsible when the game's on the line, definitely," Moulson said after the Isles halted a three-game losing streak at home and a streak of four straight games in which they allowed a total of 14 third-period goals. "I thought we did a good job on that shift. We've done some good things as a team of late, but it's only been a couple periods a night and then we've gotten away from it. We're obviously more successful when everyone's doing that kind of thing."
Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves for his third shutout of the season and had his big moments in the third, including a good shoulder save on Brennan during a Panthers power play early in the final period.
His teammates blocked 18 shots, 16 in the final 40 minutes, and played a much simpler game in the final period than they had in losing three straight.
"I think we have to continue to work, continue to perfect that style of play," said Nabokov, who is the first Isles goaltender with three shutouts in a season since Rick DiPietro in 2007-08. "Sometimes in the third, it was just [send the puck] off the glass, out of the zone, the simple play. Sometimes it was too pretty. We have to keep working at it."
The Islanders, as they did on Friday against the Penguins, had a charged-up start to the game, and the Frans Nielsen-Josh Bailey-Kyle Okposo line drew an early power play. That line also makes up part of the second power-play unit, and some nice diagonal passing between Okposo, Nielsen and Andrew MacDonald led to MacDonald's slapper from the point that beat Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom at 6:05 of the first.
The Isles continued to carry the play, holding a 13-4 shot advantage after one period, but still had only a one-goal lead. They had a few stumbles in the second and early in the third, but Nabokov kept things intact and the Isles were much more forceful in their own zone.
"You'd like to see us really come out to start the third and take control one of these nights, but it's good to fight through and win a tight one," said Tavares, whose empty-netter gave him 19 goals for the season, third-best in the NHL. "We can't be satisfied with this. I'm happy we got the win, got the job done, and we showed we can do the things we need to do late in games."