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ISLAND LOSS: Islanders Keep on Winning, Roll Panthers 5-2 ... Cats Meet Dr. J, Mr. Hockey In the House ... Mueller Leaves, Strachan Misses Third

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Ever since the Panthers last came here on March 24, the Islanders have been on quite a tear -- one that's helped put them in good position to end a five-year postseason drought.

Tuesday night, the Islanders kept rolling toward the playoffs as they scored three times in the first and ended up beating up the Panthers 5-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

New York remained seventh in the Eastern Conference with the victory -- it's ninth in 12 games since beating the Panthers in March. The Islanders are an impressive 9-1-2 during that span. Florida has lost three straight.

"There was a playoff-feel about it, at least on their side,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "If you aren't believing it, what's going to happen is what happened. Every game we play right now is going to be against a team incredibly hungry for something moving forward.''

The Islanders celebrated fan appreciation night a touch early as Tuesday was their final home game of the regular season. New York will play five road games to end the year and with a few wins, the Isles won't say good bye to the Colisieum for the summer just yet.

Fresh off an exciting 1-0 overtime loss to the Rangers in which the old barn was rocking like 1982 on Saturday, the Isles jumped all over the Panthers. New York had a 3-0 lead after Michael Grabner scored with 3:13 left in the first.

The Panthers made it a 3-1 game with 1:48 left in the first when Dmitry Kulikov's heavy wrister on a power play beat Evgeni Nabokov.

Florida got no closer. The Islanders scored on consecutive shots from Radek Martinek and Grabner 14 seconds apart in the second to make it 5-1 and send an angry Jacob Markstrom to the bench.

The Florida rookie gave up five goals on 18 shots then slammed his mask to the ground in anger once he made it to the bench.

"It's not fun right now, I'm struggling right now,'' Markstrom said. "It's not been good enough. .-.-. It's never fun to lose. It's embarrassing to be pulled.''

The Panthers cut the deficit back to three with four minutes later lwhen Marcel Goc took a feed from Tomas Kopecky and dumped the puck into a net emptied when Nabokov came out and couldn't get back in time.

Nabokov went down for a bit after banging his head into the cage after getting tangled up with Scottie Upshall and Lubomir Visnovsky. Nabokov finally got up, shook things off and resumed play. Nabokov ended with 26 saves.

HELLO DR. J

The Panthers and Islanders got a surprise visitor to Tuesday's morning skate as Julius 'Dr. J' Erving was at the Coliseum to film part of his upcoming documentary to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 76ers 1983 NBA title.

Erving played for the New York Nets of the ABA during the early days of the Coliseum before the team moved to New Jersey.

Defenseman Brian Campbell was one of a few Panthers who got in a few words with the legendary hoopster. Campbell called it "a thrill.''

"As special as he was before Michael, Magic and Bird; Dr. J was the man,'' Dineen said. "He is just a great ambassador for sports. It was a special deal.''

'The Doctor' will air on NBA TV on June 10 during the NBA Finals.

-- A hockey legend was also in the building as Gordie Howe, known affectionately as 'Mr. Hockey,' watched the game from the press box. Howe, 85, was with his son Mark - the director of pro scouting for the Red Wings who lives nearby.

-- Panthers winger Peter Mueller travelled with the Panthers to Long Island and took part in the morning skate. Yet he wasn't there Tuesday night as he flew back to South Florida to be with his wife Taylar [cq] as she was expected to give birth to their first child at any time.

Defenseman Filip Kuba (lower body) also missed the game but is on the trip. Tyson Strachan (upper body) left Tuesday's game in the second and didn't return.

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