UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The New York Islanders have been unlucky at home this season, especially in the third period. Evgeni Nabokov didn’t leave anything to chance Sunday night, posting a shutout to make sure they headed out on the road on a positive note.
Nabokov made 26 saves, defenceman Andrew MacDonald scored the winning goal and the Islanders defeated the Florida Panthers 3-0 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of a four-game homestand.
It was Nabokov’s third shutout this season for the Islanders, who stayed in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference despite having won only six of 19 home games this season.
“We have to get on a roll and this is the best way to start it,” said the 37-year-old Nabokov, who recorded his 55th career shutout. “We worked hard and we have confidence in ourselves. We look forward to the challenge of what’s ahead.”
After losing their three previous home games—against Ottawa, Montreal and Pittsburgh—by faltering in the third period, the Islanders shut down the Panthers, who have the NHL’s worst record at 9-18-6.
MacDonald scored his second goal of the season at 6:05 of the first period on the power play. His blast from the point eluded Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom with assists by Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. It was fifth straight game in which an Islander defencemen has scored and was the 19th goal by a defenceman.
John Tavares scored his team-leading 19th goal, an empty-netter with 31 seconds left. Casey Cizikas added an empty net score with 13 seconds remaining.
“We had our chances and we kept it close, but couldn’t find a way to tie it,” Markstrom said. “It’s a hard way to lose when you’re close for the whole game.”
Nabokov, who has been in net for 27 of the Islanders’ 32 games this season, has 326 career wins, ranking him fourth among active goalies behind Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Nikolai Khabibulin. His 55 shutouts move him ahead Bernie Parent and Ed Giacomin to 18th all-time.
“The bounces went our way today,” said Nabokov, who improved to 14-10-3. “I keep telling the guys that good things will happen if we play hard until the end. Everybody has to understand how important these points are.”
The Islanders have been ahead or tied in the third period in 26 of 32 games this season. They are 14-9-3 in those games.
“We were rewarded,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We fought hard all game and won many battles. Of course, the homestand could have been better, but we can enjoy this one a little and get ready for the road trip.”
The Islanders dominated the first period, outshooting the Panthers 13-4. The Panthers held a 12-11 shots advantage in a scoreless second period. Nabokov stopped 10 Florida shots in the third.
“Nabby certainly made timely saves when he had to,” Capuano said. “They made a push and we were there to stop them. Our defence collectively played a strong game.”
The Islanders, who are 6-11-2 at home, play 11 of their final 16 games on the road, beginning Tuesday night in Washington. They also play at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey before returning home April 2 against Winnipeg.
The Islanders, who haven’t reached the post-season since 2007, are 8-4-1 on the road. Only Chicago, Pittsburgh and Montreal have fewer away losses this season.
The Islanders also beat the Panthers 4-3 in Florida on March 16 when they squandered a three-goal, third-period lead, but were rescued on a late goal by Cizikas.
The teams meet for a third and final time April 16 at Nassau Coliseum in the Islanders’ last home game.
The Panthers are on a season-high five-game road trip. They won the first two then lost to New Jersey Saturday night. Florida will conclude its trip in Toronto on Tuesday.
NOTES: The Panthers were also missing goaltender Jose Theodore, defenceman Mike Caruso (wrist), Mike Weaver (lower body), Ed Jovanovski (lower body) and forward George Parros (upper body). . The Islanders were without defenceman Brian Strait (knee) and forward David Ullstrom (groin). . Islanders left wing Matt Moulson’s games-played streak stands at 278 games. The only Islanders with longer consecutive-games streaks are Billy Harris (576) and Bob Nystrom (301).