Islanders-Panthers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 24, 2012
Though Florida still appears to be in good shape to claim its first division title in franchise history, the Panthers' overall play in the last two games might be a cause for concern. A visit from the New York Islanders, however, could help the Panthers get back on track. The Southeast Division leaders look to avoid a third straight defeat Sunday night when they try to complete a four-game season sweep of the visiting Islanders. With eight games remaining, Florida (36-24-14) has a four-point lead over Washington in the race for the Southeast Division title and a top three seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, after two straight losses to a pair of teams set to the miss the postseason, the Panthers need to step up their game if they want to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000. "There's no shortcuts right now," coach Kevin Dineen said. "We're looking to maybe take a little easier path, to try and take the highway instead of the dirt road and that's just not going to happen this time of year." Florida averaged 3.6 goals during a five-game winning streak prior to losing 3-1 at Carolina on Wednesday and 2-1 in a home shootout to Edmonton on Friday. "We just need to produce more offense," Dineen told the Panthers' official website. "Play the game the way it's supposed to be played." Jason Garrison added to his career high with his 16th goal Friday as the Panthers' five-game home winning streak came to an end. "Hopefully down the stretch we won't need these points, but it we need to play better," said Florida forward Tomas Fleischmann, who assisted on Garrison's goal. The team co-leader with a career-high 54 points, Fleischmann has a goal and four assists in the last five home games. He's recorded one goal and three assists while the Panthers have outscored the Islanders 10-3 during their three victories this season. Florida's Jose Theodore, who stopped 20 shots Friday, is 2-0-0 with a 1.13 goals-against average in three starts versus New York on 2011-12. Though Florida has fared well versus New York (30-32-11) this season, the Panthers have shown in their last two games they have no business taking any opponent for granted. Looking to match their season high with a third consecutive victory Saturday, the Islanders rallied from an early two-goal deficit to take a third period lead, only to lose 4-3 at Tampa Bay. Matt Moulson scored his team-leading 33rd goal of the season and 100th of his career, plus added an assist, but New York lost for the sixth time in eight games. "We felt like we carried the play at times,'' Islanders defenseman Steve Staios said. "The mistakes we made were big ones. We gave them five-star chances, and that was the game for us.'' Moulson has five goals in the last six games, but he's been held without a point in his last four against the Panthers. Teammate John Tavares recorded an assist Saturday, giving him six to go with five goals in his last seven contests. He had one of each during New York's 4-2 loss at Florida on Oct. 22.
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