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Islanders rally falls short against Leafs

Evgeni Nabokov of the New York Islanders can't

Evgeni Nabokov of the New York Islanders can't stop the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first period. (Dec. 23, 2011) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The fight was there. But again, it just wasn't enough for the Islanders.

After falling behind the Toronto Maple Leafs by three goals in the first period Friday night at Nassau Coliseum, they found a way to close the gap, and it seemed they might be poised for a dramatic comeback when John Tavares' goal midway through the final period brought them within one.

But an empty-netter by the Maple Leafs' Joffrey Lupul with nine seconds remaining sealed the Islanders' fate and Toronto's 5-3 win.

"We were a little sluggish,'' Tavares said. "We battled back, but we made too many mistakes and dug ourselves too deep a hole early."

With the Islanders trailing 4-3 and less than a minute to go, Jack Capuano pulled goalie Evgeni Nabokov in exchange for an extra attacker. But the Islanders gave up an empty-net goal, just as they had in Thursday night's road loss to the Rangers.

With 3:01 to go, Tavares and Lupul were sent to the penalty box for two minutes after Lupul was called for cross-checking Tavares and Tavares was called for unsportsmanlike conduct (diving) in front of his own bench.

Tavares said after the game that he didn't dive, and his coach backed him up. "Johnny's not the type of player to dive," Capuano said of the momentum-changing call. " . . . It takes your best player off the ice."

Kyle Okposo's sixth goal of the season (assisted by Mike Mottau and Josh Bailey) pulled the Islanders to within 3-1 with 4:15 left in the first period. Frans Nielsen made it 3-2 on a power-play goal -- his first goal in 18 games -- on a shot that sailed over the shoulder of James Reimer 40 seconds into the second.

But Toronto took a 4-2 lead at 8:59 of the second on a shorthanded goal by Joey Crabb.

Capuano noted his team's continued improvement on the power play but matter-of-factly added: "The first 10 minutes cost us the game. I thought we looked a little fatigued."

Nabokov made 22 saves but was the target of jeers after allowing two goals on five shots just 4:22 into the first period. But despite falling behind 3-0 just 11:15 into the period on goals by Clarke MacArthur, Nazem Kadri and Carl Gunnarsson, the Islanders fought back.

The Islanders (11-16-6), who went 2-1-0 on their recent three-game road trip, face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday.

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