Panthers-Islanders Preview

The Associated Press

The New York Islanders are the worst home team in the NHL, and their recent issues in the third period aren't doing them any favors.

The Islanders will try address those concerns and conclude an unpleasant four-game homestand on a positive note Sunday against the league-worst Florida Panthers.

New York (13-15-3) is three points behind the New York Rangers and Carolina, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

"It's crunch time every game," goaltender Evgeni Nabokov said. "We're still not far from the pack."

The Islanders could be in much better shape, however, if not for a 5-11-2 record at Nassau Coliseum. Those struggles have continued with three straight regulation losses to begin this homestand, in which New York has been outscored 9-0 in the third period.

The skid followed a 4-3 win at Florida (9-17-6) on March 16, when Casey Cizikas scored the go-ahead goal after the Panthers tied it by netting three in a row in a 1:43 span early in the third.

New York has led or been tied in the third period in 25 of its 31 games, but has won only 13. The Isles entered the third tied Friday, but fell 4-2 to Pittsburgh.

"The third period has been our Achilles heel," center John Tavares said. "We can't seem to hold onto a lead or break through in the third.

"We can't afford not getting points. We have to push ourselves better. Our confidence isn't bad, but we are making mistakes at the wrong times."

Tavares is among the NHL scoring leaders with 18 goals and 33 points, but he's a minus-10. He's often struggled against Florida, mustering merely one assist in six home meetings, with the Islanders losing four.

Nabokov is expected to be back in net after stopping 21 of 24 shots against the Penguins. He was pulled from his only start against the Panthers on Long Island, surrendering four goals on 15 shots through two periods of a 4-1 defeat on Feb. 12, 2012.

Nabokov had 27 saves at Florida last week.

The Panthers are finishing a swing through the New York area as part of a season-high five-game road trip. They're 2-1-0 on the overall jaunt after falling 2-1 at New Jersey on Saturday, two days after beating the Rangers 3-1.

"As of late, we're playing pretty good," said Scott Clemmensen, who made 23 saves against the Devils. "As a result, we're in every game and that gives us a chance to win.

"It's tough to win on the road. We played a pretty good hockey game, but it was tough to lose."

Clemmensen, who has lost five straight decisions, was in net against the Islanders last week, but he may return to the bench in favor of Jacob Markstrom, who has won his last two starts while allowing two goals on 79 shots.

Tomas Kopecky is tied with rookie Jonathan Huberdeau for the team lead with 12 goals and 20 points. Kopecky has six points in his past eight games, getting an assist against New York last weekend.

He has no points in three visits to Long Island.

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