In the past, the Islanders would have been pleased with what they accomplished Tuesday night. Now, they want more and are demanding more of themselves.
“We have to be better,” Matt Martin said after the Islanders took one step closer to reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 with a thoroughly dominant performance in the 5-2 rout of the Panthers at the Coliseum.
With the win over Florida, the Islanders improved to 22-16-5 and finished the home portion of the regular season with a 10-11-3 mark. The Islanders will play the final five games of the lockout-abbreviated season on the road, starting Thursday night in Toronto.
The Islanders were troubled that they allowed the NHL-worst Panthers to outshoot them 20-16 over the final 40 minutes and out-attempt them 52-23.
“Not too many guys were overly happy in here when we came in [at] the second intermission and even after the game,” Martin said. “We understand that we have to be way better to make any run in the playoffs. It’s not going to be good enough. We’re not going to beat some of the better teams in the league in a seven-game series if we play like that.”
For all intents and purposes the game was decided by the first intermission as the Islanders went into the break with a 3-1 lead. Matt Moulson opened the scoring 8:11 into the match with 14th goal of the season. Moulson tipped Martin’s redirection of Thomas Hickey’s centering feed past Jacob Markstrom (13 saves).
Mark Streit and Michael Grabner scored back-to-back goals on the same power play in a two-minute span to push the advantage to 3-0. With Tyson Strachan (two-minute minor for cross-checking) and Eric Gudbranson (four-minute minor for high-sticking) in the box, Streit ripped a right-circle slapshot past Markstrom at 13:59 and Grabner followed with a breakaway goal at 16:47.
The Islanders went two-for-three on the power play and killed four of Florida’s five power plays.
“We started extremely strong,” Moulson said. “Obviously got some big power play goals [from] Mark and Grabby. If it wasn’t for that first period that we had, we probably would have lost the game.”
Eleven Islanders finished with at least one point, led by Streit and Grabner who finished with two points each. Nine Islanders were plus-1 or better, with Hickey, Martin and Lubomir Visnovsky recording a plus-2 rating. Grabner scored two goals. Streit, Moulson and Radek Martinek added one each.
“It’s always nice when you can score some goals and help out the team,” Grabner said.
His 15 goals are second on the Islanders behind John Tavares’s 24.
“When I get the puck I’m not really trying to think too much,” Grabner said. “[I] just try to get a quick, hard shot off. Two, three weeks ago I was thinking about it too much. Now it’s a little bit easier.”
Martinek and Grabner pushed the lead to 5-1 with goals in a 14-second span of the second period. Following Grabner’s second goal, Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen replaced him with Scott Clemmensen. Clemmensen stopped all 13 shots he faced in 36:20 of the second and third periods.
The four-goal cushion was more than enough for Evgeni Nabokov, who made 26 saves on 28 shots. His lone mistakes were yielding markers to Dmitry Kulikov (18:12 of the first period) and Marcel Goc (7:44 of the second period).
Nabokov experienced a scare midway through the second period when he was steamrolled by Panthers left wing Scottie Upshall, who was tied up by Visnovsky. Nabokov stayed down on the ice for a minute and spoke with a trainer but remained in the game.
“When you get hit in the neck you’re like, ‘What’s happening?’” Nabokov said. “You feel some pain. I knew I was fine. It was just a matter of [taking] a breather, take an extra minute and make sure.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.