SUNRISE, Florida — “It’s like a bad dream right now.”
That’s how Jack Capuano summed up the Islanders’ latest failure, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Panthers last night that featured another tying goal in the final minute of regulation and another point lost by the Islanders who continue to stay submerged near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, now 5-7-3 and drifting farther away from the last playoff spots even with the season just barely underway.
The Islanders got a 2-0 lead after two periods, including a wild second in which the Isles had a goal confirmed following a lengthy review and a Panthers goal waved off after officials first disallowed it, then allowed it after a review, then waved if off again following an Islanders challenge.
That could have been the story of the Islanders’ night — those calls going their way and the stellar work of Jaroslav Halak, who stopped all 28 shots he faced through 40 minutes as the Panthers, themselves a frustrated bunch, threw shot after shot on the Isles net.
But the stories have not been so simple this season. Florida rookie Kyle Rau got the home side on the board at 8:56 of the third, but the Islanders worked hard enough to draw two power plays in the final 8:30 of the third, the last with 2:49 to go.
They could not convert. The Panthers pulled their goaltender and on their 39th shot of the game pulled even on perhaps their worst scoring chance of the night. Jonathan Marchessault tossed a wrist shot from the side boards that Halak saw all the way but simply missed, the puck squeezing under Halak’s left arm and barely over the goal line with 13.6 seconds left to tie it.
“It shouldn’t go in. That’s on me,” Halak said. “Obviously it was a better game, but the second goal really bugs me . . . I can’t let it happen.”
Halak finished with 40 saves, including a couple huge ones on a Panthers overtime power play, but Florida rookie Denis Malgin ended it with a deflection past Halak with 45.8 seconds to go.
The final-minute tying goal was the third allowed by the Islanders in their 15 games. Add in three more go-ahead goals allowed in the final three minutes of the third and you have a host of lost points that seem to have this team’s confidence in tatters. The Islanders are now 0-5 on the road.
“I don’t know how to address it other than to stay positive and just find a way to get ourselves out of this,” captain John Tavares said. “These are games we should have. We’re finding ways to lose.”
Brock Nelson’s goal with 22 seconds left in the first gave the Isles their first lead in 13 periods of road hockey this season and Nick Leddy’s power-play goal gave the Isles a 2-0 lead after that long review following a Florida challenge that Nelson interfered with Roberto Luongo.
There was a lengthy five-on-three that the Isles misfired on in the second as well, plus Aaron Ekblad’s goal being waved off on the ice, then restored, then waved off again after a review for Jaromir Jagr bumping Halak in the crease.
“It was a weird period, a long period — but we had the lead after all that,” Nelson said. “We just lost it.”
The Islanders flew home late last night preparing for a Sunday practice and a Monday visit from the Lightning, which have outscored the Isles 10-2 in a pair of overwhelming defeats.
If general manager Garth Snow has any changes planned for his fragile group, another clunker on Monday could be the catalyst.
“There’s enough negativity around,” Capuano said. “For us as a coaching staff, we have to focus on staying positive. We’ve done some good things. We have to keep that attitude.”