The New York Islanders gained a point but lost a shootout and a chance to tally another regulation win and build more space at the top of the Metropolitan Division, where the idle second-place Rangers now trail by three points but with four games in hand.
The home team victors, the flu-ridden Florida Panthers, toughed out a tight 4-3 shootout win after coughing up three one-goal leads. They kept pace with the wild-card-holding Boston Bruins, who won earlier in the day.
Jonathan Huberdeau, whose spin-around shot from the slot gave the Panthers a brief third-period lead, also scored the only conversion in the shootout, which saw John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey all fail to beat Dan Ellis.
The loss was a tough Isles debut for Michal Neuvirth, who waited ages to face his first shot -- a stark contrast to the work he's handled in Buffalo all season -- and only faced 18 shots overall. Still, he was only beaten by one daunting deflection and some great moves from Panthers forwards.
Fall Back, Come Back
The Islanders opened like wild fire in the first period, teasing that they might really take it to the Panthers, who have battled the flu bug and on this night were missing Aaron Ekblad and Tomas Kopecky to illness -- not to mention injuries to their first two goalies in Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
But that was indeed just a tease, and the Panthers -- perhaps aided by choppy home ice -- were able to slow the game down from there all the way through overtime. The home team also opened scoring when an Erik Gudbranson shot took a sharp redirection off Casey Cizikas in the low slot to elude Neuvirth.
Gudbranson found himself trying to stir a ruckus much of the night, initiating run-ins with Colin McDonald and Tavares early on, and getting offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties with Anders Lee early in the third when both players wrestled behind the Panthers net.
Tavares erased Gudbranson's goal early in the second with a dizzying series of moves on a breakaway created by Lee intercepting Nick Bjugstad's pass in the neutral zone.
But Bjugstad -- who is just a treat to watch -- showed his own fine hands four minutes later when he took a pass from behind the net, dragged and roofed a backhand past Neuvirth to restore the Panthers' one-goal lead, 2-1.
Nick Leddy sent the teams to the second intermission tied at 2-2 when his power play shot from the point took a fortunate deflection off a Panthers stick to beat Ellis. That was Leddy's 10th goal of the season.
Huberdeau's goal came at 9:26 of the third period, and you wondered if the Islanders would run out of comeback luck.
Not at all: Bailey tied it three minutes later in somewhat shocking fashion, a slapshot from the top of the left-wing circle to beat Ellis high, and elicit an eruption from Islanders fans in that corner of the arena. The play was reminiscent of an exchange earlier in the period, when Tavares hit the post with the score still 2-2.
Bailey's goal was assisted by Tavares, giving the Islanders captain three points on the night and momentary sole possession of the league scoring lead with 70 points in 67 games.
Huberdeau's shootout conversion was one of those borderline deals: He made his pull back move and basically came to a "stop" deep into the Islanders goaltender's crease, forcing a sprawling Neuvirth back to his post. This is the grey area of laboratory moves and contact that makes the shootout the butt of cranky purists' derision.
But it's also worth a whole standings point. (On that note: The Panthers improve to 7-10 in shootouts this season, while the Isles drop to 7-3. Yes, the Cats have been in seventeen shootouts this season.)
Speaking of standings points, the Isles now have four in their first three games of this four-game trip. They next head to Toronto for a Monday game with the Leafs, who were absolutely torched on home ice tonight by the Blues.
Whatever condition the fragile Leafs are in Monday, the Isles will want to get two points and do so without incident: They fly home for a game with the Rangers the next night.
If you're in the States, remember to spring forward for daylight savings time.
Quote of the Night
Not a quote exactly, but Howie Rose and Butch Goring said they brought up the rough ice -- or bouncing pucks, at least -- to Denis Potvin at the intermission, and found themselves laughing at how passionately defensive Potvin was about it all.
Meanwhile, after the game, Neuvirth talked about his lack of work and the adjustment. In Newsday's recap:
"I haven't been in a game like that all season and I think I couldn't get into the game, mentally," Neuvirth said. "Different hockey, different system -- it's just different."
Again, a tough debut that from the outside could look like, "Wait, this was an upgrade?" But he made a few really sharp saves, and here's betting he'll figure it out.