Mike Halmo drove hard to the net and shot, then shot again. It all happened so fast that he had no time to reflect that it was a moment he will remember for the rest of his life. It wasn't the red light or the cheers that got his attention. It was the sound of his name bouncing off the walls of Nassau Coliseum.
"It took a few minutes afterward, sitting on the bench to sink in. Then I heard it, through the speakers," said the 22-year-old, whose first NHL goal came at 4:21 of the third period in the Islanders' 4-2 win Tuesday night over the Panthers.
Halmo is one of 10 rookies in the Islanders lineup, a setup that means every game is a big game for the guys on the ice. To the rest of the world, Tuesday night was an irrelevant matchup of two teams out of the playoff picture. But for the rookies and for the veteran role players who now have bigger roles, every night has the potential to be an occasion.
"It's a rough year and a year we're not proud of, but to be going down the stretch with some wins and playing good hockey, it definitely feels a little better," said Matt Martin, who continued showing a new offensive dimension with the second-period goal (his eighth of the season) that made the score 3-1.
The Islanders' current 6-2-1 and 4-0-1 runs aren't necessarily omens of a bright future. But they are signs that guys are playing for their professional lives and playing hard. That goes for Halmo and rookie center Ryan Strome, who retrieved the puck from the corner and set up the tiebreaking goal in the second period.
It also goes for Colin McDonald, who has flourished on a line with Martin and Strome and had two assists in the second period, and Josh Bailey, who had a goal and an assist.
"All those guys who have come up have done a great job for us. From practice to games, they're always giving 110 percent. It has paid off for us," Bailey said, adding that the bench was bursting with excitement after the rookie's first goal.