By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE — New York’s Casey Cizikas spoiled a spirited Florida comeback and a sparkling debut by a new Panther.
The Florida Panthers rallied from three goals down in the third period to tie the New York Islanders only to see Cizikas send a shot past goaltender Scott Clemmensen to lead New York to a 4-3 win at the BB&T Center on Saturday night.
The Panthers (7-16-6), losers of six straight, fell behind 3-0 after 40 minutes but proceeded to go on a goal-scoring tear, tallying three times in a span of 1:43 to ignite the crowd of 17,627 fans who had little to cheer about through two periods.
New Florida defenseman T.J. Brennan, acquired from Buffalo for a 2013 fifth-round draft pick on Friday, punched in a rebound in the low slot around a scrum to make it 3-1. Marcel Goc scored 34 second seconds later below the right circle off a diagonal pass from Tomas Fleischmann in the left corner.
The Panthers tied it 69 seconds later when Jack Skille drove hard to the net and put a shot on New York goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Mike Santorelli crashed in and put away the rebound, completing the comeback.
“We threw a lot of energy out there and finally got some production,” said Florida coach Kevin Dineen. “We saw some highs and lows. We just need to see a more complete game.”
The Islanders (13-12-3) continued their strong push to return to the postseason for the first in six seasons. New York last made the playoffs in the 2006-2007 season, falling to the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The team sits in ninth in the East, just two points behind Carolina.
The club started its road trip through the Sunshine State with a 2-0 win at Tampa on Thursday, again with the 37-year-old Nabokov in goal. The also welcomed the return of Colin McDonald, who missed the Lightning game due to illness. McDonald recorded the primary assist by setting up Cizikas’s game-winner with a slick pass from behind Clemmensen’s cage. Kyle Okposo, Radek Martinek and Brad Boyes scored the New York goals that led to the 3-0 advantage.
Nabokov stopped Skille on Florida’s best scoring chances. He made a sprawling glove save 8:42 into the second period as Skille tried to go high on him. Nabokov matched that by stuffing Skille’s backhander with three minutes left in the period. Nabokov finished with 27 saves and ran his record to 13-8-3.
Skille talks about the loss and being robbed by Nabokov’s glove in the second period:
Dineen said the bar was set high by Brennan, who played two seasons for the Florida coach at Portland in the American Hockey League. In his first game as a Panther, Brennan logged 23:42 of ice time and had four shots on goal.
“That’s my expectations of him as a player and that’s the level he’s set. That’s what we’ll expect until our season ends,” Dineen said.
It was the sixth straight game Florida trailed at least 2-0 after the first period. The Panthers also trailed 4-0 after the first against Washington on March 7.