It didn’t take long for the Panthers to extinguish the hottest road team in hockey Tuesday night. Aleksander Barkov scored 32 seconds in and Florida scored three in the opening period en route to a 4-2 win over the Islanders at BB&T Center.
The Panthers hadn’t scored more than one goal in any of their previous three games before halting the Islanders’ run of seven consecutive road wins.
Before the game, coach Peter Horachek vowed his team would start scoring. The Panthers proved him right.
"We got goals from all different lines," said Nick Bjugstad, who made it 3-0 near the end of the third.
"A lot of guys came through. It was good to see. We bore down."
The Islanders, who hadn’t lost away from Long Island since Dec. 12 in Arizona, looked road weary in the first period as soft clearing passes and poor puck handling helped lead to Florida’s quick start.
On the game’s opening shift, Barkov and Brad Boyes alternated passes up the ice with Barkov finally sending the puck into the empty net as Kevin Poulin committed to Boyes.
The Islanders, in the middle of a six-game trip, woke up as the period wore on only to find Tim Thomas waiting for them. The Panthers goalie made a number of key saves as he waited for the Florida offense to add support.
With 4:26 left in the first, the Panthers took a 2-0 lead as Drew Shore spun in the right circle and threw up a shot that banged off Brian Strait’s skate. Bjugstad then made it 3-0 by driving in and scoring off another New York turnover. Bjugstad ended up being thrown into the goal.
"I just tried going to the net," Bjugstad said. "It’s part of the game."
The Islanders came hard at the Panthers in the second, but Thomas (31 saves) was strong again. Florida made it 4-0 when Scottie Upshall steamrolled Andrew MacDonald to steal the puck and scored on a breakaway.
Upshall’s goal — his first in 16 games — came as Florida was killing off a penalty.
"It was a big play by our defensemen [Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell] down low," Upshall said. "We were able to play with the lead, and that’s a big confidence-booster. I think all four lines were great. It was a big effort from everyone."
New York, which didn’t get much from leading scorer John Tavares, cut its deficit to three late in the second just as its third power play ended as Colin McDonald scored in front of the net. Early in the third, Thomas Vanek — a potential Florida target this offseason — made it 4-2.
Although the Islanders kept coming, Thomas kept the puck out.
"Timmie keeps us in it every time," Bjugstad said. "It’s nice having a ’tender like that."
The Panthers announced they will host the NHL Draft next summer. The first round is expected to be held on June 26, 2015, with the following rounds on June 27.
"I think that’s something that is going to build and build and build," Horachek said. "... I think it’s a great thing, great for South Florida, our team and this building. It will be exciting."
Team president Michael Yormark said the team is working on bringing more such events to the Broward County-owned (but team-run) arena.
The NHL promised the county a draft and future All-Star Game last summer in exchange for the commission approving a new scoreboard.
Yormark said the BB&T Center has an agreement to continue hosting the Orange Bowl college basketball tournament and the arena is looking into NCAA men’s basketball tournaments.
Florida had numerous chances but couldn’t score on an long 5-on-3 opportunity in the first nor a four-minute power play in the third.