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New York Islanders 3, Florida Panthers 2: Wake-up call leads to third-period comeback

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At no point did things look like they'd turned out like that.

Mysterious ways.
Mysterious ways.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New York Islanders began their Monday night encounter with the Florida Panthers like it was another weekend matinee, which is to say they were sleepwalking through a slow start. Again. The visitors came to play, the home team came to watch.

The second period, which the Islanders entered lucky to be trailing only 1-0, was mildly better, but hockey is hockey so they exited the frame trailing 2-0 with 20 minutes to go.

The third period was much better -- shots were 17-7 for the Isles -- but hockey doesn't often reward such an effort deferred for so long. It did tonight, and though the Isles trailed 2-0 with just over seven minutes to go, they exited with an improbable comeback 3-2 regulation win.

A lot of fan expletives were left on the cutting room floor. The result and its two points keeps up the pressure on the second-place Rangers while maintaining a little breathing room above Pittsburgh ahead of their encounter with the Penguins on Tuesday night.

[Box | Game Sum | Event Sum | War on Ice | Natural Stat Trick ]
RecapsIslesNHL | Newsday

"Quicksand" was the word the MSG broadcasters used to describe the Isles' first-period skating effort, when they were outshot 11-5 and but for the grace of Greiss trailed only 1-0 on a rather fluke goal.

Nick Bjugstad scored on the power play (thanks to a dubious interference call on Matt Martin) midway through the second period to amp up the pressure, while the Isles misfired on two power plays of their own. They'd shown more signs of life, but it felt like more too little, too late.

Then the third period happened. It wasn't a "season saver" or a "turning point" in this playoff push. But it was a sign of life that fans have been waiting for.

Said Cal Clutterbuck, who scored the we'll-take-it game-winner (quotes relayed by Isles PR):

"It's not about the things being said [between periods] I don't think, we're not that type of group. We're the type of team that I think everyone kinda knows. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure it out, the first 35 minutes were some of our worst minutes. With that said, good third period."

Jack Capuano, who frequently notes that the team will go as far as their own internal accountability takes them, sounded similar in explaining why he didn't even visit the locker room during the second intermission:

"I didn't want to break anything [after the second period]," Capuano said. "If you have to go in and tell them the importance of the game … it's (captain John Tavares') team. I could sense it. He was frustrated on the bench there, and I just figured at that particular point in time … like I've said before, we prepare them, we made some adjustments going into the third, but they have to play the game.

And in Newsday, frustration and suspicion:

"We were flat," Capuano said. "For some reason, and I have an idea, but some guys just aren’t there."

The effort came, finally, at the start of the third period, but the rewards didn't come until it felt like it was already too late.

When Shane Prince hit the crossbar eight minutes in you likely figured it wasn't their night, and deservedly so. Anders Lee's thundering check, on his bobblehead night, which drew the obligatory fight invitation, may have helped wake the team. Coming off a line change with 7:15 to go, Kyle Okposo scored one-on-three with a hard but knuckling wrister from the high slot. "That giveaway could've just turned the game around," said a hopeful Howie Rose on MSG.

But so it went. Josh Bailey scored on a can't-miss rebound just 1:21 later, and suddenly a 2-0 deficit seemed as harmless as it could be. At least they'll salvage a point from this, you might have thought as 5:39 remained. (And why couldn't they play with this energy through the first two periods? Or at any point on Saturday afternoon in Boston?)

The crowd at Barclays Center had come alive, finally witnessing a home team effort that warranted it.

And then another fourth-line bailout -- now with Nikolay Kulemin at center instead of Casey Cizikas -- followed due to their vaunted forecheck. Cal Clutterbuck's backhand winner with 1:39 left made no sense, and I'm still not sure how it went in past Roberto Luongo, but it did. It was his 13th goal of the season and they've all felt monumentally important.

The Isles had rescued themselves from their own frustrating lethargy. Two regulation points secured.

They still needed some big Thomas Greiss saves at 2-2, but no shame in that. Okposo said in Newsday he hopes that comeback means they've matured, but the question lingers about where the maturity was in the first half of the game.

Quote of the Night

"It makes you wonder, Howie, and I'm a former player, but why does it take you 40 minutes to get going?"

>>Butch Goring, post-game

Next Up

The stakes remain high as the Islanders travel to Pittsburgh for tomorrow night's battle with the Penguins, who are waiting at home after winning at the Garden on Sunday. They can pass the Rangers with a win.