The Islanders advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993, while the devastated Cats were left to ponder how they lost a hard-fought series that saw them outplay the victors for large portions of it.
Jonathan Huberdeau opened the scoring with his first goal of the postseason with 1:02 remaining in a cautiously played first period that saw the two combatants combine for just 12 shots on net.
After stealing the puck from Shane Prince, Jussi Jokinen dished off to Vincent Trocheck and he quickly found Huberdeau streaking into the Isles' zone. Huberdeau pulled up and slung a wrist shot, while falling to ice, off of defenseman Nick Leddy and by a helpless Thomas Greiss to give the Panthers the lead.
Greiss stood tall with under five minutes to go in the second period to keep the Cats from extend their lead, blocking off an attempted shot/pass by Aleksander Barkov and beating Jaromir Jagr to the juicy rebound.
Shortly after that sequence, Roberto Luongo came up with big stops on Calvin de Haan and Frans Nielsen to preserve the Panthers' tenuous one-goal advantage heading into the third.
Each team had good chances early in the final frame, but Greiss denied Reilly Smith and Luongo stoned Cal Clutterbuck. The veteran Cats keeper made one of his best stops in regulation on Nikolay Kulemin with 5:17 to go.
Florida came oh-so-close to clinching the game and sending the series back to Sunrise for Game 7, but both Trocheck and Smith were pulled down as the Panthers attacked the Islanders' empty-net, with the referees finding not enough fault to call penalties in either instance.
The Islanders turned the play around with Leddy going end-to-end and his desperate centering attempt eventually coming to Kulemin, who was denied again by Luongo. Unfortunately, the puck wasn't under Luongo's body after he made the save and Tavares was there to pounce on it and send into the gaping cage to even the game with 54 seconds left in regulation.
New York had the better of play in the first overtime period, but 20 more minutes was not enough to produce a winner.
The Panthers came out strong to open the fifth period and Smith, in very similar fashion to Huberdeau's earlier shot, almost won it, but the puck rang off the cross bar and out of play.
Tavares' series-winner came at the 10:41 mark off assists from Kyle Okposo and Alan Quine. The impressive rookie's entry pass found Okposo at the blue line and he centered from the boards to Tavares, who ripped a shot from the right circle off Luongo's left pad. Tavares turned on the jets and split his way through Brian Campbell and Aaron Ekblad to collect the rebound and bag a spectacular wraparound goal to set up a second-round date with the rested and waiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
Greiss delivered another superb start, finishing with 41 saves, while Luongo, who was undeservedly pinned with a second straight hard-luck loss, stopped 49 in defeat.
Flotsam & Jetsam
- After producing an NHL-leading 8 points (4G/4A) in the first three games of the series, Reilly Smith couldn't add to it over the final three tilts. Despite that, Smith finished as the Panthers' leading scorer in goals, assists and points and posted a team-best +7 rating.
- In addition to scoring Florida's only goal, his first career playoff marker, Jonathan Huberdeau finished with a game-high nine shots. Huberdeau currently leads the league with 34 SOG. It's disappointing he didn't finish a couple more times, but he showed an offensive hunger that was lacking from too many of his teammates in the final two games of the series, that each went to double-overtime.
- Jaromir Jagr failed to end his long playoff goal-scoring drought that now stands at a somewhat astounding 37 games. The 44-year-old Jagr finished the series with two assists and a -2 rating.
- Want a simple reason the Islanders advanced and the Panthers didn't? John Tavares scored five goals by himself (and set up four others). The Panthers top line of Aleksander Barkov, Jagr and Huberdeau combined for just three. They certainly tried, but Florida's big guns just couldn't seize the spotlight. Barkov's failure to beat Greiss on a penalty shot in Game 5 was a monster moment.
- Vincent Trocheck picked up his first-ever playoff point, in just his second game, with an assist on Huberdeau's goal. It's too bad Trocheck wasn't available until Game 5 of the series, that definitely hurt the Cats.
- The fine folks at war-on-ice have the advanced stats breakdown for you right here.
- NHL.com has a highlight package you can see with your own eyes.
- Lighthouse Hockey has the other side of last night's heart-breaker for us.
- Unfortunately, this is the final recap of the season. From myself and the rest of the LBC, just want to thank everyone for joining us for what was a very exciting season of Panthers hockey. Hopefully, they can learn from this and take it further next year.