- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) - James Reimer has been coming up big for the surging Panthers the last six weeks. His latest effort was his second shutout this month and it helped Florida move closer to a playoff spot.

Reimer stopped 32 shots for his fifth straight win as the Panthers beat the reeling New York Islanders 3-0 Monday night.

“I just tried to be big in there and try to read the puck as best as I could and be on it,” Reimer said. “And then rely on your D-men to clear any garbage, and they did a great job.”

It was the backup goalie’s fourth shutout this season and 21st of his career, improving his record to 7-1-0 since returning from an injury Feb. 12.

“Reims has answered the bell every time,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “This is the part of the season you need guys stepping up and he’s been one of our guys that’s stepped up for us. … His preparation is real good and you can see he was focused right from the drop of the puck tonight, made some big saves.”

Evgenii Dadonov and Keith Yandle each had a goal and an assist, and Nick Bjugstad also scored to help Florida win for the 13th time in 17 games (13-3-1).

The Panthers moved within one point of idle New Jersey for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. They have eight games remaining, one more than the Devils, over the final 13 days of the season.

“I really haven’t been paying much attention to what’s going on with the Devils and those other teams, but obviously we know it’s tight and you can’t afford to lose at this point,” Bjugstad said. “There’s not much breathing room here at the end of the year. … We’ve got a tough schedule coming up here, a lot of games, but it’s going to be a fun challenge.”

Christopher Gibson finished with 38 saves for the Islanders, who were eliminated from postseason contention for the second straight year with their 14th loss in 16 games (2-10-4).

“It’s tough,” coach Doug Weight said. “It’s tough for us, and it’s not good enough. It’s tough for the fans, it’s tough for everybody involved. All we can say is we’re going to be better. … I think we have the ingredients and we have the drive and we’re going to work at it.”

Leading 1-0 after one period, Florida pulled away with two goals in the second while outshooting New York 19-11.

After Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal was given a double-minor for high-sticking Vincent Trochek 1:24 into the middle period, Florida took advantage just 23 seconds later. Bjugstad got a pass from Jamie McGinn, skated into the right circle and fired the puck past Gibson for his 18th goal.

Dadonov made it 3-0 at 6:09 as he sent a pass from the left side boards toward the net for a streaking Bjugstad, but the puck deflected off the skate of Islanders defenseman Brandon Davidson and past Gibson. It was Dadonov’s 24th goal of the season, and ninth goal and 21st point in his last 17 games.

The Panthers outshot the Islanders 16-10 in the first period, with both teams getting solid chances.

Gibson denied Derek MacKenzie in front 3 1/2 minutes in, and then stopped MacKenzie Weeger’s shot from the left circle and Maxim Mamim’s follow attempt on the rebound in front a little more than two minutes later.

The Islanders‘ Cal Clutterbuck hit a post 2 1/2 minutes in. Reimer also turned away Andrew Ladd’s tip attempt in front 4 1/2 minutes in, Anders Lee’s backhand two minutes later, and two tries in close by John Tavares shortly after that.

Reimer acknowledged that being in the thick of the playoff race has helped elevate his game.

“When it’s going like this you just come to the rink ready to go,” he said. “You’re excited to play, every game means something, and those are the fun games to play.”

Yandle got the Panthers on the scoreboard with 8:22 left in the opening period as he sent a long wrist shot from between the circles in front of the blue line past Gibson’s glove side for his eighth.

NOTES: Aleksander Barkov had an assist on Yandle’s goal, giving him 15 assists and 21 points in his last 17 games. He is one away from becoming the first Panthers player with 50 assists since Olli Jokinen had 52 in 2006-07. … The Panthers improved to 10-3-1 this month, tying the franchise record for wins and points (21) in March set in 2006. Florida has three more games remaining this month. … Florida is 20-6-1 in its last 27 games. …. The Panthers improved to 26-1-0 when leading after two periods. … Tavares snapped a five-game point streak in which he had two goals and seven assists.

UP NEXT

Panthers: At the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in the second of a four-game trip.

Islanders: At the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.

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Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

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More AP NHL: www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey


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