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Panthers cruise past Islanders, 5-3

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) - Scottie Upshall and the Florida Panthers have had little to celebrate this season. But four unanswered goals to secure a 5-3 win over the New York Islanders was reason enough to savor the moment.

Upshall scored twice in the third period as part of the four-goal outburst as the Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak and sent the Islanders to yet another discouraging loss Sunday.

Upshall's 11th of the season broke a 3-3 tie at 10:31 of the final period. The goal came on the rebound of shot by Shawn Mattias, who also scored two goals for the Panthers. Upshall tapped the loose puck past backup goaltender Anders Nilsson, who started in place of Evgeni Nabokov. He scored again at 15:26 on the power play to make it 5-3. Tim Thomas made 35 saves for the Panthers (23-31-7).

''We came out determined in the third,'' said the 30-year-old Upshall, a first-round pick by Nashville in 2002 who almost completed a natural hat trick with two minutes left. ''We needed a spark and we found it. And we played with an edge.''

The Islanders entered the third with a 3-1 advantage after Thomas Vanek scored twice in the first and Ryan Strome added a goal late in the second. But Florida's Marcel Goc and Matthias scored early in the third to tie the game at 3 before Upshall's late scores.

Vanek opened the scoring at 6:41 with his 20th of the season and added his 21st on the power play at 7:39. The goals were his first since Jan. 25.

Vanek was a major acquisition by the Islanders from Buffalo on Oct. 27 and has 17 goals in 47 games for New York. The Austrian left wing said he wants to test free agency this summer. Thus, the Islanders might try to trade him before Wednesday's deadline while they can still garner assets in return.

The Islanders lost for the ninth time in 11 games. And it was the 12th time in their disappointing season in which they surrendered a two-goal lead, winning only two of those contests.

''We seem to find ways to lose,'' said Andrew MacDonald, also a pending free agent who could be traded. ''It's tough to see games slip away. When you get the lead, you should be able to hold it, most of the time. It's discouraging.''

MacDonald also addressed the idea he could be leaving the only NHL organization he has known.

''I thought about it today, it weighs on your mind,'' the 27-year-old defenseman said. ''You try not to let it get to you.''

After Matthias scored for Florida to make it 2-1 at 18:15 of the second, Strome restored the two-goal margin for the Islanders 59 seconds later with his second of the season.

Goc's 11th of the season at 3:16 of the third came on a 40-foot floater from just inside the left point to make it 3-2 early in the third. Matthias scored his second of the game and ninth of the season at 4:18.

The afternoon matchup was chippy from the start.

Rival tough guys Krys Barch of the Panthers and the Islanders' Eric Boulton squared off 2:25 into the game. Eight seconds later, a skirmish ensued between Brian Strait of the Islanders and Jonathan Huberdeau of Florida.

''We didn't quit, we stayed involved,'' added Matthias. ''We played a real gritty game and we're glad to get the two points.''

The Islanders beat Toronto in overtime last Thursday in their first game back following the Olympic break. But they were drubbed 6-1 on Saturday by the New Jersey Devils as Jaromir Jagr scored his 700th career goal.

The Islanders played without defenseman Travis Hamonic, suspended one game for instigating a fight near the end of Saturday's loss.

NOTES: The Islanders activated forward Frans Nielsen before the game and sent Mike Halmo to AHL Bridgeport. Nielsen, who has 18 goals, suffered a broken hand when he was slashed against Colorado on Feb. 8. ... The Islanders (23-32-8) head out for a four-game Canadian road trip - Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver before returning home to face San Jose on March 14. ... The Panthers have played 30 one-goal games this season, with a 12-11-7 mark. ... Florida was without forwards Alex Barkov (knee) and Tomas Kopecky (upper body) while the Islanders also missed forward Matt Martin (lower body). ... Florida scratched captain Ed Jovanovski and forward Scott Gomez.

The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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