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Panthers fight past Islanders

The SportsXchange

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Florida Panthers fought first on Sunday afternoon. Then they fought back.

Right winger Scottie Upshall's scored the go-ahead and insurance goals in the third period Sunday, when the Panthers fell behind by two goals in a fight-filled first period before scoring four unanswered goals in the third period of a 5-3 win over the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

In winning a rare matchup of NHL also-rans, the Panthers (23-31-7) ended a five-game losing streak and won for just the second time in their last nine games.

Florida faced a 2-0 deficit Sunday for the sixth time in that nine-game span, but the Panthers, who have scored 61 of their 151 goals in the third period this year, stormed back and took the lead for good during a 7:15 stretch in the first half of the third.

"It's been kind of clockwork lately, where we get down early in the game," Upshall said. "Tonight I just think we had our best period in the last 20 (minutes)."

The first 20 minutes were certainly the feistiest on both sides. The Panthers and Islanders (23-32-8) began play Sunday as two of the six NHL teams more than five points out of a playoff spot, and both clubs aired out their frustrations in the first period that featured 14 penalties and 34 penalty minutes.

The fisticuffs began 2:25 into the game, when Islanders left winger Eric Boulton and Panthers right winger Krys Barch engaged in a lengthy brawl that began at center ice and ended in front of the Islanders' net.

Overall on Sunday, the two teams combined for 24 penalties and 54 penalty minutes.

"Both teams, we're grinding right now," Upshall said. "It's a part of the year where things don't go well. You've got to dig deep. And you see guys just playing on edge."

The Panthers appeared on the edge of getting blown out when Islanders left winger Thomas Vanek -- who turned down a contract extension from New York last month and is expected to be dealt before Wednesday's trade deadline -- scored twice in a 58-second span.

Less than two minutes after Vanek's second goal, the Islanders embarked on a 5-on-3 power play. But goaltender Tim Thomas (35 saves) made four impressive stops to keep the deficit at two goals.

"It was so long ago and so much happened in that game that I forgot about (the power play)," Thomas said with a laugh. "I was just trying to battle. And with Vanek having two pretty quick goals, I really didn't want to let him have the hat trick."

The Panthers began clawing back late in the second on the first of two goals by center Shawn Matthais. Islanders center Ryan Strome scored less than a minute later to once again give the Islanders a two-goal lead, but Florida center Marcel Goc and Matthias scored in the first 4:18 of the third.

Matthias set up Upshall's winner when his slapshot was initially stopped by Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson. But the puck landed just to the left of the net and Upshall swooped in and put it into the net.

"The third period we put together was astounding," Thomas said. "What I liked was once we started to comeback there in the third, we just kept going and we had the killer instinct we've been looking for in that situation."

Upshall iced the game with a rare power-play goal with 4:34 left. The Panthers have scored on just 9.3 percent of their power plays (19 of 204). The lowest power-play figure of all-time is 9.35 percent by the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It seems like it got a little chippy at the beginning and for a while and then it settled down," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "We're a team that's lost a few games in a row and we needed to win a game. And I think our guys took some pride in that."

Nilsson made 29 saves for the Islanders, who also gave up four goals in the second period of a 6-1 loss to New Jersey on Saturday. The Islanders have blown a two-goal lead in 10 of their 40 losses.

"We've got to do a better job for 60 minutes," Strome said. "Frustrating."

NOTES: Prior to the game, the Islanders activated C Frans Nielsen from injured reserve and sent LW Mike Halmo to Bridgeport of the AHL. Nielsen suffered a broken hand on Feb. 8 but missed just two games thanks to the Olympic break. ... Among the Islanders' scratches was D Travis Hamonic, who served the one-game suspension he received for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of New York's 6-1 loss to New Jersey on Saturday. Also scratched were LW Matt Martin (lower body) and D Radek Martinek. ... The Panthers had a pair of healthy scratches: C Scott Gomez and D Ed Jovanovski. ... D Mike Weaver, who was a healthy scratch Saturday because Panthers coach Peter Horachek was displeased with his performance against Washington, was back in the starting lineup for Florida. ... The Panthers complete a three-game road trip at Boston on Tuesday, when the Islanders begin a four-game Canadian trek at Winnipeg.
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