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Islanders find consolation in another win

The SportsXchange

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Finishing an otherwise lost season in winning fashion does not change the reality of missing the playoffs for the New York Islanders, but it sure beats the alternative. Just ask the Florida Panthers.

The Islanders continued their improved late-season play on Tuesday night, when they scored three tap-in goals during a 13-minute stretch spanning the second and third periods in a 4-2 win over the Panthers in a rare matchup of NHL also-rans at Nassau Coliseum.

Defenseman Travis Hamonic, left winger Josh Bailey, left winger Matt Martin and left winger Mike Halmo each scored a goal apiece as the Islanders (30-35-10) won their second in a row and for the fifth time in their last seven games (5-1-1).

The Islanders have allowed three goals or less four times in their last five games. Before that, they allowed three goals or less just four times in 13 games from Feb. 4 through March 18.

"I think it's good that we're kind of gelling and everyone's producing, everyone's playing good hockey right now," Martin said.

The win also staved off inevitable playoff elimination for the Islanders, at least for one more night. New York will officially miss the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years with another loss or another win by Detroit.

"Obviously, no one's happy with where we are -- it's a rough year and a year we're not proud of," Martin said. "To be going down the stretch with some wins and playing some good hockey definitely feels better."

While the Islanders are playing out the string in impressive fashion, the Panthers (27-42-8) are stumbling to the finish line. Florida has lost four in a row and seven of its last eight. Five of the losses have been by at least three goals, and the Panthers would have lost by three on Tuesday if not for a power play goal by center Brandon Pirri with 5.9 seconds left.

The Panthers went 17-14-3 in the first 34 games after Peter Horachek replaced Kevin Dineen as head coach but are just 7-19-1 since then and have not won consecutive games since Jan. 20-21.

"It's disappointing -- we got five more games to do what we can," Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. "We had some momentum, but we let it get away from us."

The Panthers and Islanders -- who began Tuesday with the third- and fourth-fewest points in the NHL, respectively, and were two of just eight teams more than five points out of a playoff spot with 12 days left in the regular season -- combined for two goals, both on an Islanders power play, in the first 2:35 of the first period.

Panthers center Quinton Howden gave Florida the lead with an unassisted short-handed goal at 1:50, but Hamonic scored just 45 seconds later to tie the score.

The Islanders extended their lead to 3-1 in final 10 minutes of the second period when Bailey (with 8:42 remaining) and Martin (with 2:24 left) put back shots by right winger Colin McDonald. Halmo provided insurance at 4:21 of the third when he rebounded his own shot for his first NHL goal.

Hamonic, Bailey, Martin and Halmo -- all of whom are 25 years old or younger -- are four of the many young players on the Islanders who are using the final few weeks of the season to evaluate their prospects. Of the 20 players who suited up for New York on Tuesday, 15 have yet to turn 26.

"There's some guys that management's taking a look at," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said, "When you put that jersey on, you put it on with pride and you play hard. Kids are getting an opportunity and we've got to try to make the best of that opportunity as (they) move forward."

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, the oldest Islanders player at age 38, made 20 saves.

"Every game you step on the ice, you want to give 100 percent -- doesn't matter the situation we're in, doesn't matter who we're playing against," Nabokov said. "(They're) playing for pride and we don't want to lose. We want to win."

Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen had 36 saves.

NOTES: The Islanders scratched two healthy players -- LW Eric Boulton and D Radek Martinek -- as well as RW Michael Grabner (concussion), RW Kyle Okposo (lower body), D Brian Strait (broken hand) and D Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion). ... RW Colin McDonald was selected by the Long Island chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the Islanders' nominee for the Masterton Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication" to hockey. McDonald played in just seven NHL games over his first five professional seasons before making the Islanders during training camp last year. ... The Panthers scratched D Tom Gilbert (hernia surgery), C Jonathan Huberdeau (concussion) and G Roberto Luongo (neck) as well as healthy RW Bobby Butler and D Ed Jovanovski. ... With Jovanovski out, D Jonathan Racine made his NHL debut. Racine, 20, had six points in 46 games this season for San Antonio of the AHL.
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