Nielsen's goal lifts Islanders in shootout
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SUNRISE, Fla. -- They're not dead yet.
As far as the playoff picture goes, the Islanders are next in line to be eliminated from the Eastern Conference race. With the Capitals winning Sunday night, the Islanders needed at least a point, preferably two, to keep playing for something these last seven games.
That they rallied twice to tie the Panthers -- who needed two points an awful lot more than the Islanders did -- to earn a point was a small measure of pride. Grabbing the second point in a 3-2 victory, on Evgeni Nabokov's three shootout stops and Frans Nielsen's goal, was another small plus, keeping the Islanders afloat for another couple of days.
It isn't much, but it's something, and something is all you can ask for after a frustrating, disappointing season.
"Everything's kind of taken with a grain of salt right now, given where we are in the standings," said Kyle Okposo, whose centering pass deflected off Florida defenseman Dmitri Kulikov's stick and past Jose Theodore to tie the score with 7:38 left. "It [stinks] we're still trying to learn how to win these kinds of games, but we played a pretty good 65 minutes and we earned our two points."
The Islanders are 11 points behind the Capitals and Sabres for eighth, with seven games to go. A loss Tuesday night in Pittsburgh would mean elimination because the Caps and Sabres will be playing in Washington at the same time, and one of them will come out of that game two points to the better.
So there was hardly a feeling of relief or euphoria in the visitors' locker room Sunday night. The outlook is as bleak as it was when the game began. But for a team that will have a large number of its current players back next season, there's still something to be said for winning games as a group.
"We can't just lay down and die," Nielsen said. "It's still the NHL, we're still where we want to be and we're a team. You keep working hard no matter what."
They did that against the Panthers less than 24 hours after coughing up a 3-2 lead in the third period to the Lightning.
The Panthers pumped 16 shots on Nabokov in the first period, taking a 1-0 lead on Stephen Weiss' goal after P.A. Parenteau, the goat on the tying goal Saturday night in Tampa, failed to tie up Weiss in front.
But the Islanders were the aggressors in the second, tying the score on Matt Moulson's 34th, a power-play goal with 1:03 left in the period. They again were the aggressors in the third, controlling play and cycling deep in the Panthers' zone for the go-ahead goal -- only to fall behind at 9:51 when Mark Streit's play around the boards bounced off a body to Tomas Fleischmann, whose quick shot fooled Nabokov.
The Panthers are being chased by the Caps for the Southeast lead and can ill afford to hand away points, especially to a team on the very fringe of the race. But Streit joined the rush and got Kulikov reaching for Okposo's pass, and the puck ended up behind Theodore.
"I'm happy with the effort the last two nights," Jack Capuano said. "They're playing hard, as they should be."
And they live to fight another few days. It isn't much of a rallying cry, but it's better than the alternative.