By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE – The Florida Panthers figured out a way to beat the streaking New York Islanders on Tuesday night at BB&T Center.
Score fast and often.
Aleksander Barkov scored in the game’s first 32 seconds, and Drew Shore and Nick Bjugstad also added markers in the opening period as the Panthers beat New York 4-2 in front of 13,730.
Florida opened the game with a blistering first period, scoring a pair of goals with New York defenseman Brian Strait right in the mix.
Florida’s Sean Bergenheim wiped out a pair of Islanders in the first 25 seconds, leading to a Panthers 2-on-1 break led by Brad Boyes. With Strait the lone blueliner, Boyes passed to Barkov, who flipped it back to Boyes and quickly received a return pass. Barkov then netted his eighth goal past Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin at the 0:32 mark.
Shore slid a puck into Poulin’s crease 15 minutes later, and it caromed off Strait’s skate for Shore’s first goal of the year. In the period’s last minute of play, Scottie Upshall stole a breakout pass from Matt Donovan, kept it in the zone and sent it to Bjugstad. The Minnesota native then charged in and powered a shot to beat Poulin on his glove side for a 3-0 lead.
“We won the game,” said Florida interim coach Peter Horachek. “The guys did what they had to. They battled down to the very end and Timmy (Thomas) played his normal solid self, right? We rely on that. We got the points, we’re moving forward. We know that there’s things to correct and we’re happy that we had that 4-1 lead going in.
“We had a lot of chances on the road last week and they didn’t all go in. We had chances tonight early in the game and they went in. But that (first one) was a pretty goal, when you look at the touch passes that those two guys had.”
The three-goal spurt matched Florida’s effort on opening night when they scored a trio of markers in the third period at Dallas to put away the Stars 4-2 on Oct. 3. In the process, Florida (18-21-7) derailed the hot Islanders, who had won four straight overall, including seven consecutive road games, and were 8-2 in their last 10 contests.
The Islanders (18-23-7) had trailed in five straight road games before rallying to win, but the task in South Florida was too tall.
“It’s not the start and the work ethic,” said Islanders coach Jack Capuano. “It’s just the first and third (goals) weren’t making the right decisions. That’s it. If there’s nothing, make the safe play. You’ve got to be mentally ready to make the right play. We had some chances…then the third one hurt at the end of the period.”
Added winger Matt Martin: “It’s something we’ve been doing a lot lately. We’ve been starting awfully slow. A lot of the games we’ve won we’ve come from behind. If you play with fire long enough you’re going to get burned.”
Upshall tallied a short-handed goal, his second this season, on a breakaway in the second period for a 4-0 lead before Colin McDonald finally solved Florida netminder Tim Thomas with 31 seconds left in the period. Thomas Vanek added another goal to cut the lead to 4-2 — his 31st point in 32 games since being traded from Buffalo — but Florida’s veteran goalie held down the fort to preserve the win.
Traded to New York last February by Boston and then sitting out the whole season, Thomas made 31 saves to improve his record to 12-11-3 on the season.
“We were able to play with the lead,” said Upshall, who added an assist. “It was just a big confidence booster to get some goals and to balance out. All four lines played great and created equal opportunities. It’s kind of a nice effort by everybody.”
NOTES: Jonathan Huberdeau, last year’s Calder Trophy winner, was benched and did not play in the last 17:22 of the game. He was stopped by Poulin on a breakaway in the first period after coming out of the penalty box…Barkov’s goal in the first 32 seconds was the fastest goal of the season. The previous one was at 1:55 by Boyes against Pittsburgh in the home opener…Thomas made his sixth consecutive start in goal after returning from a lower-body injury. He was traded to the Islanders last February after announcing he would sit out the season and never played a game for the orange and blue…The Panthers play host Thursday night to the San Jose Sharks, a 2-1 shootout winner over the Capitals in Washington…Florida will host the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26-27. The event will feature likely top pick Connor McDavid, the Canadian phenom who turned 17 on Monday.