UNIONDALE, N.Y. – New York Islanders captain Mark Streit had never heard Nassau Coliseum this loud in his five years on Long Island.
An unexpected run to the playoffs can certainly make the old building rock.
Michael Grabner scored twice and Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves as the Islanders moved closer to a playoff berth with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Playing before a boisterous crowd, the Islanders earned their ninth win in 12 games while playing their final regular-season home game. The Islanders, 10-11-3 at home after starting 2-8-1, will begin a season-ending, five-game trip on Thursday in Toronto.
“The energy is fabulous when a big crowd is excited,” the Swiss-born Streit said. “We found a way to get another big two points and we go on our road trip with confidence. “
With a 14-5-3 mark since March 1, the Islanders hold seventh place in the Eastern Conference. New York, seeking its first post-season appearance since 2007, has allowed two goals or fewer in nine straight games.
Matt Moulson, Streit and Radek Martinek also scored for the Islanders, who bounced back from a 1-0 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday. The Islanders are three points in front of the Rangers and the Winnipeg Jets.
“We came out strong, and Nabby made great saves, as usual,” Moulson said. “We are feeling very good about ourselves with five games left.”
Dmitry Kulikov and Marcel Goc had goals for the Panthers (13-23-6), who own the NHL’s worst record.
The Islanders (22-16-5) came out flying, continuing the brisk pace they established against the Rangers. They outshot the Panthers 15-8 in the first period and took a 3-0 lead as the near-capacity crowd chanted, “Let’s Go Islanders” and “We Want Playoffs.”
Moulson opened the scoring at 8:01, tipping in Thomas Hickey’s point shot for his 14th goal of the season. Streit made it 2-0 during a 5-on-3 power play at 13:59, ripping a shot past goalie Jacob Markstrom for his sixth of the season.
“The atmosphere at the Coliseum reminded me of games in Switzerland,” said Streit, whose hometown team SC Bern—for which he and Islanders leading scorer John Tavares played during this season’s NHL lockout—won the Swiss elite league championship on Tuesday. “It’s really great for us to be in this position. We just have to keep it going.”
Grabner increased the lead with his 14th goal, another power-play tally at 16:47 as Panthers defenceman Erik Gudbranson served a four-minute, high-sticking penalty.
“Timely goals are big,” Grabner said. “I’m glad I was able to get two of them.”
Kulikov put the Panthers on the board when his slap shot on the power play eluded Nabokov at 18:12 of the first.
Martinek and Grabner scored 14 seconds apart early in the second to make it 5-1 and send Markstrom to the bench in favour of Scott Clemmensen.
Goc cut the Panthers’ deficit to three goals at 7:44 of the second.
The 37-year-old Nabokov (21-11-5) has been in goal for 37 of New York’s 43 games. He has given up more than two goals just once in his last 11 games. With 333 career wins, he ranks third among active goalies behind Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo.
“We’re doing the little things well, and our effort is there every night,” Nabokov said. “That is why we are winning.”
The Islanders swept the three-game season series from the Panthers.
Florida reached the playoffs a year ago, losing in the first round to New Jersey. The Panthers have used 36 players this season, one in which they have been beset by injuries, particularly the loss of forwards Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg.
“All we can do is continue trying our best and playing for pride,” Panthers defenceman Mike Weaver said. “We have to keep playing hard.”
NOTES: New York C Casey Cizikas was forced out of the game by an upper body injury. … Islanders coach Jack Capuano won his 82nd game, moving him ahead of Terry Simpson for second on the team’s career wins list. Al Arbour is first with 740. … The Islanders are 12-5-2 on the road, on pace for the best mark in franchise history. Their top road points percentage before this season was .663, set in the 1976-77 (23-10-7) and 1980-81 (25-12-3) seasons.