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Aatu Raty scores in NHL debut, Islanders drub Panthers 5-1 after bad Sam Bennett hit

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Aatu Raty Islanders Panthers
Aatu Raty celebrates his first career NHL goal in the Islanders’ 5-1 win over the Panthers Friday night at UBS Arena. (Photo courtesy of the New York Islanders)

Sam Bennett lit one heck fire under the backsides of the New York Islanders on Thursday night. 

Following his dangerous knee-to-knee hit that knocked Islanders forward Simon Holmstrom out of the game in the final seconds of the second period, New York went into overdrive in the third — scoring two goals in a 1:11 span to cruise to a 5-1 victory and a positive result before the Christmas break. 

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Making his NHL debut, Aatu Raty scored the Islanders’ first goal of the third period and the first of his career, showing off the skills that makes him the organization’s top prospect.

“I thought he was really good,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “He plays on both sides of the puck and I thought defensively he was sound.”

Of course, it’s the offensive splash that will make the headlines on a night that Anthony Beauvillier scored two goals — the 100th and 101st of his career.

At the 7:10 mark of the third period, the 20-year-old Raty cut toward the Panthers’ goal inside the right face-off circle, deked around a defender in Nick Cousins, and sniped a wrister past a helpless Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead. 

“The whole day felt surreal. This is something that I’ve wanted to do since I remember,” Raty said. “It’s so special… I was kind of watching [the replay] on the jumbotron and I didn’t even realize I made a move there. I just thought I got the puck and shot it. It’s like I almost blacked out.”

Parise put an exclamation point on the night just 1:11 later when he drove down the left boards and lifted a searing backhander over Bobrovsky at the 8:21 mark of the third, proving to be the Islanders’ fourth unanswered goal of the night. 

Matthew Tkachuk put the Panthers in front 8:09 into the first period when he muscled a rebound into the back of the net. Parise, who was put in a tough spot by an awkward pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, turned the puck over at the blue line to re-establish Florida’s possession that ultimately led to its opener.

It was a first period of missed opportunities for the Islanders, who had four power-play opportunities but looked tepid — mustering just four shots with no real threat to Bobrovsky’s goal. 

“The first period was a strange period because there’s so many special teams… so it was a little bit out of sync,” Lambert said. “Tough to get in a rhythm. Once we started to get into a rhythm in the second and third period, we started to find our legs and get going.”

They tallied a pair of goals and new-found offensive vigor in the second period to take a lead going into the final 20. Anthony Beauvillier drew the Islanders level 5:20 into the frame when he pounced on a loose puck between the dots and fired a wrister past Bobrovsky. 

“I thought he played really well tonight,” Lambert said of Beauvillier. “I thought right from the very beginning he was going. He was using his legs and when he does, he has success.”

Pageau and Holmstrom hit posts before Ryan Pulock finally found twine to put New York up with a wrister from the left circle that seemed as though it surprised the Panthers’ netminder. 

While the middle period gave the Islanders a lead, it also proved to be a costly one. Brock Nelson was hit in the side of the head by an Alexander Romanov clear before Holmstrom was taken out by the dangerous knee-to-knee hit by Bennett that wasn’t even called for a penalty.

“It’s a fast play,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “It’s too bad that happened to Holmer… Anytime a guy goes down it’s tough, sometimes it’s an unfortunate circumstance.”

Both left the game immediately and did not return, but the Islanders still found a way to dominate the third period to seal a much-needed win headed into the three-day break. 

“We kept our head down and focused on the right things,” Lee said. “Our focus tonight was taken care of.”

Beauvillier capped the night off with an empty netter for an Islanders fifth.

“I think our leadership and our veteran guys do a good job in the room of keeping guys focused,” Lambert added. They did a good job of it. It says a lot about our team.”

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