They are no longer playing the part of the spoiler, so the Islanders have to be on guard for games like last night, when the Panthers tried to do what the Isles have been forced to for several seasons: Ruin another team's chances of making the postseason.

The Islanders were up to the challenge -- for about a period and change. After piling on five goals in the opening 23:33, the Islanders let themselves go a little. It was a 5-2 win over the last-place Panthers, but the Islanders were chastising themselves for playing too loose in their Nassau Coliseum regular-season finale.

"We thought we could play a little run and gun with them, maybe guys looking to pick up some points individually," Andrew MacDonald said. "We came out strong in the first, but then we got away from everything."

Perhaps a better team, or a playoff opponent, would have made the Islanders pay for their lapses. But they got the needed two points when the struggling Florida offense was unable to push through. Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves, more than half of them after he was knocked down by Panthers forward Scottie Upshall in the second and needed the Isles trainer to check on his neck.

The win, coupled with the Rangers' 4-2 loss in Philadelphia, had the Isles three points clear in seventh place, still one point back of the Senators. The Isles head off on their season-ending, five-game road trip that begins tomorrow in Toronto on a 6-0-2 streak, 9-1-2 in their last 12 games and 5-0-1 in their final six home games after starting the season 5-11-2 at the Coliseum.