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Islanders get unsatisfying victory

The SportsXchange

UNIONDALE, N.Y.-The New York Islanders would love nothing more than to fulfill the requests of the fans who chanted "We want playoffs!" for most of the final two periods of the Islanders' regular-season home finale against the Florida Panthers Tuesday night.

But the Islanders know that if they want to play another game at Nassau Coliseum this season, they'll have to play a lot better than they did in easily dispatching of the Panthers 5-2 in front of a near-capacity crowd of 15,922.

"We didn't play a very good game tonight," Islanders winger Matt Martin said after New York's easiest home win in two months. "We need to be better and we're fortunate we got some nice goals early and kind of got that separation with the 5-1 lead. But it's not good enough. We need to be a better team."

Few teams have played better lately than the Islanders, who have surged into contention for their first playoff berth since 2007 by going 9-1-2 in their last 12 games.

With their win Tuesday, the Islanders (22-16-5) remained in seventh place in the East, one point behind Ottawa. The Islanders' lead over the eighth-place Rangers increased to three points thanks to the Rangers' loss to the Flyers.

Winnipeg remained in ninth place, five points behind the Islanders, by beating Tampa Bay.

Michael Grabner scored two goals while Matt Moulson, Mark Streit and Radek Martinek also scored for the Islanders, who scored the first three goals of the first period - their first three-goal period since March 9 - and twice more in a 14-second span in the second to take their biggest lead in a home game since a 5-1 win over the Devils on Feb. 16.

But Martin and coach Jack Capuano believe the Islanders relaxed and could have been in some trouble if not for the usual solid play of goalie Evgeni Nabokov (26 saves), who allowed two goals or less for the ninth time in his last 10 games.

"I thought we had some lapses there," Capuano said. "Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is you go up by two or three goals early."

Said Martin: "I think we got a little bit overconfident, a little cocky, and started carrying pucks and trying to make too many pretty plays. Nabby played great for us, [otherwise], it could have been a different game."

The Islanders' less-than-stellar play didn't deter a raucous crowd that began chanting "We want playoffs!" after Grabner's second goal extended the Islanders' lead to 5-1 just 3:33 into the second.

"We're excited to be in this position - I haven't been in this position since I've been here and we want to play playoff hockey," said Martin, who is in his fourth season. "The dream is to win the Stanley Cup and we're in position to possibly do that.

"It's a lot more fun when you have five games left and [are] still playing for something. We haven't had that over the years."

If the Islanders are to finally clinch that long-awaited playoff berth, they'll have to do it during a season-ending five-game road trip - the longest season-ending road trip in franchise history. It begins Thursday in Toronto, which is in fifth place in the East, four points ahead of the Islanders.

The Islanders, who are 12-5-2 away from Nassau Coliseum, play Winnipeg on Saturday before finishing the season at Philadelphia, Carolina and Buffalo, all of whom are at least four points out of the playoff race through Tuesday.

"It's going to be tough," Nabokov said. "You're going into some cities who are obviously desperate and they're fighting for the playoffs and you're on the road [and] they're at home. They're going to give you 100 percent effort, that's for sure, so you're going to have to have it also."

Dmitry Kulikov and Marcel Goc scored for the Panthers, who lost their third in a row and remained last in the NHL with 32 points. Florida (13-23-6) became the first Eastern Conference team to be eliminated from playoff contention last Saturday and has missed the playoffs in 11 of the last 12 seasons.

Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom (13 saves) was chased after Martinek and Grabner extended the Islanders' lead to 5-1 with their consecutive goals early in the second.

"That's when I want to come up with a big save and try and get the boys going and change the momentum," Markstrom said. "Today that didn't happen. It's never fun to lose and it's never fun to get pulled. It's embarrassing."

NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the game in memory of the victims of Monday's Boston Marathon bombing. ... Islanders center Casey Cizikas did not return after suffering an upper body injury when he deflected a puck with his left arm in the second period. ... The Islanders scratched defensemen Matt Carkner, Joe Finley and Brian Strait, centers Anders Lee and Marty Reasoner and winger Eric Boulton. The Panthers scratched defenseman Filip Kuba and center Peter Mueller. Mueller traveled home to Florida to be with his wife, who is expecting a baby. ... The Islanders are the first NHL team this season to complete their home schedule. Columbus and Nashville have each played 23 home games. ... The Panthers' lone playoff appearance in the last 12 years came last season, when they snapped an NHL-record 10-year playoff drought by winning the Southeast Division.
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