According to multiple reports, the National Hockey League Players’ Association has approved a proposed 24-team playoff format by the National Hockey League in its Return To Play initiative. That said, I thought it would be a good time to look back at how the Florida Panthers fared against the team they are potentially slated to face in the play-in round, the New York Islanders.
The Panthers and Islanders met three times early in the campaign to complete the season series and the results were not good for the guys in red, blue and gold. Florida managed a mere one point out of a possible six by dropping all three games against the team that knocked them out of the 2016 playoffs.
Let’s see we how Ryan and I recapped things back in late 2019.
Game 1: October 12, 2019 - Islanders take 3-2 shootout decision on home ice
For the second time in as many days, the Panthers would play a hockey game with extra minutes, and for the second time in as many days they would fail to convert in the shootout, losing 3-2 to the Islanders - the same score as last night’s game in Buffalo. The Panthers managed to notch a first period goal for the first time this season, that marker coming off the stick of Denis Malgin, giving them an early lead, but they would not be able to hold it, as the Islanders would score twice in the second to forge ahead.
Once again, Florida would not quit though, staging a late third period comeback. This time the hero would be Evgenii Dadonov, who placed a perfect wrister over the shoulder of Semyon Varlamov thanks to a nice feed from Jonathan Huberdeau. The game would stay tied at two, sending the clubs to overtime. However, the Cats looked gassed in the extra session, and managed to not score a single goal again in the shootout, wasting the solid play of Sam Montembeault in net.
At times, the Panthers looked tired, which is somewhat expected in a back-to-back situation, but the Islanders were in the same boat after losing to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday evening. There aren’t too many excuses for this game; the Panthers just aren’t bringing much offensively right now. The 5v5 scoring chances could be counted on one hand for majority of the game, and the power play looks pretty impotent, generating mostly just barely screened perimeter shots with almost no rebound chances. Defensively the club wasn’t atrocious but they weren’t great either, with Montembeault having to make quite a few big saves to keep the Cats in this one, especially in the second period where the Islanders dominated in terms of puck possession.
We’re five games in now, and there’s not much to see so far, but it is at least notable that the team seems to be working harder after the 6-3 shellacking they took against Carolina. It hasn’t amounted to much yet, but at least there’s some signs of a pulse in the locker room, which is a good sign. However, the Panthers are sitting on four points out of a possible ten. If they’re going to start the season strong, they need to start turning things around Monday against New Jersey, or else it’s going to be too late.
Game 2: November 9, 2019 - Islanders win 2-1 in Brooklyn
Old nemesis Thomas Greiss made 37 saves to help the streaking Islanders tame the Panthers by a 2-1 count in a tense matinee affair from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
New York led much of the game thanks to an early goal 5:40 into first period from Mathew Barzal.
The Islanders center roofed a backhander after taking a cross-ice pass from Brock Nelson. Former Panther Derick Brassard drew the second helper on Barzal’s seventh.
Florida finally got on the board 6:12 into the third period when Aleksander Barkov rapped a loose puck past Greiss with the Panthers enjoying a man advantage,
The power-play tally, with the assists going to Jonathan Huberdeau and Keith Yandle, gave the Cats captain goals in four-straight games.
Unfortunately, Scott Mayfield would score what would turn out to be the game-winner just 38 seconds later when his attempted centering pass deflected off both Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman and tumbled past a helpless Sergei Bobrovsky.
Barkov had a second tying goal taken away during another Panthers power play with 5:25 remaining in regulation when replays concluded he knocked the puck, which deflected off Greiss, in with a high stick.
Bobrovsky made 34 saves, including 19 in the second period, for the Panthers in one of his better starts of the season.
The Cats failed to pick up at least a point for only the fourth time in sixteen games this season. They continue to be in almost every game, but they need to find a way to win more of them. This was a well-played tilt by both teams, but Greiss stood on his head, making some highlight reel caliber saves on Barkov in particular, and that was the difference in what turned out to be another frustrating defeat after Thursday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Washington.
Game 3: December 12, 2019 Islanders win 3-1 to complete season sweep in Sunrise
A lack of offense and a couple of penalties cost the Panthers dearly as the Islanders left the BB&T Center with a 3-1 win to complete the season sweep..
The Panthers were only able to muster a total of four goals in two regulation losses and one shootout defeat to the Islanders.
A tripping penalty on Frank Vatrano with 18 seconds left in the first period set the stage for New York’s first power-play goal 49 seconds into the middle frame. After playing catch with Jordan Eberle, Devon Toews snapped a long shot through the legs of Anders Lee, who was screening Sergei Bobrovsky, to open the scoring. Lee picked up the secondary assist on Toews’ third of the season.
The Islanders converted another man-advantage, this time with Vincent Trocheck off for holding, 3:51 later. A terrible turnover by MacKenzie Weegar was quickly cashed in as a series of passes culminated in Mathew Barzal pounding the puck into an empty net, with the helpers going to Eberle and Josh Bailey.
Florida would finally solve Thomas Greiss at the 9:36 mark when Brett Connolly chipped the puck out of his own zone leading to a 2-on-1 break. Mark Pysyk carried in and fed across to Mike Hoffman and he fired home from the left circle to cut the deficit in half.
That would be it for the Cats, as Greiss would stop all 13 shots he faced in third period, including a big lunging save on Connolly with four minutes to go in regulation.
Lee would put the icing on the cake with an unassisted empty-net goal with three ticks left on the clock.
For the second straight game, the Panthers wasted a quality start from Bobrovsky, who finished the game with 27 saves after stopping 46 of 48 on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who jumped the Cats in the standings with a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
Greiss, who stopped 37 shots in a 2-1 win over Florida on November 9, turned aside 32 of 33 last night to raise his record to 11-4.
Head coach Joel Quenneville was not a very happy man in his post game presser. After the last two games where the Cats were pinned into their own zone for long stretches, he insinuated the players aren’t working hard enough, and its shown on the ice. With the Boston Bruins coming to town on Saturday, the Panthers need to find their highest gear quick, and hopefully break off the shifter knob so they stay in that gear for the remainder of the season.
So there you have it... Three very similar games, three close but no cigar losses. The Panthers will have its hands full in a playoff series with the Islanders. New York, with its stingy defense and strong 1-2 punch in net, could be a team that comes out of the long layoff ready to roll, thanks to the suffocating system put in place by head coach Barry Trotz. Florida will need its top-six to break through in a way they weren’t able to when they went 0-2-1 against the Islanders during the regular season. Sergei Bobrovsky will likely have to outplay either Varlamov or Greiss to give the Panthers a chance to not only move on, but avenge that painful postseason loss in 2016.
Will the Panthers beat the Islanders in the playoffs?
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