The Panthers out-played the Islanders for stretches, but couldn’t finish, while the New York took enough advantage of Florida mistakes to grind out a 2-1 victory over the frustrated Cats.
A turnover by rookie Riley Stillman led to the first Islanders goal exactly twelve minutes into the first period. Deep in his own end, Stillman carelessly backhanded the puck up the boards without looking and Derick Brassard, who played ten games with the Panthers last season, found deadline day acquisition Jean-Gabriel Pageau crashing the net for New York’s first-ever August goal. Pageau got just enough of the puck to chip it over Sergei Bobrovsky
It took the Cats over half the frame to register a shot on goal, however, thanks to a late power-play opportunity they finished period with nine, but couldn’t dent starter Semyon Varlamov to tie the score.
Another self-inflicted wound cost the Panthers big-time early in the second stanza as the Cats dug themselves a two-goal hole against the defensively stout Islanders.
Mike Matheson’s hit to the head of Johnny Boychuk was originally called a major penalty, but was reduced to a minor after video review.
No matter about the extra three minutes, the Islanders would need just 56 seconds to tee Anthony Beauvillier up for his second career playoff goal. After playing catch with Josh Bailey, defenseman Devon Toews slid the puck over to Beauvillier, and his one-timer from the top of the right circle along the ice found its way through both MacKenzie Weegar’s skates and Bobrovksy’s pads.
The Panthers would carry much of the play for the rest of period, finishing with a 14-7 advantage in shots, but once again the offense, which only scored four times against the Islanders in the regular season, failed to click.
Florida finally got on the board for the first time since March 9, scoring on a creative play off the rush 23 seconds into the final frame. Aleksander Barkov sent Jonathan Huberdeau into the offensive zone with speed and the crafty left wing dropped back to Weegar, who went back down low to Huberdeau, who then cut to the net and slipped the puck between Varlamov’s legs to halve the deficit.
Unfortunately, that would be all she wrote for the Cats offense. Despite playing much of the game with five defensemen after Boychuk departed, the Islanders were able to hold the Panthers to just four shots on goal the rest of the way to eke out the win.
Bobrovsky did his part to keep the Panthers in position to even the tilt with ten third period saves.
After four games against Barry Trotz’ club, its apparent the Panthers are going to have to beat the Islanders at their own game, which means getting top-notch goaltending and limiting mistakes to next to nothing. That’s a not a recipe that the Cats are comfortable with. Can they do it three times in the next four games to advance? We’ll find out starting Tuesday at noon.
Flotsam & Jetsam
- There hasn’t been a best-of-five series in the NHL since 1986. They were used in the league for the preliminary round of the playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series a whopping 87.5 percent of the time . This game was there for the taking and the Panthers couldn’t find a way to win, which could come back to bite them on the hindquarters.
- Yesterday was the first time the Islanders posted a victory with J-G Pageau in the lineup. They were 0-3-4 in their final seven regular-season games after he was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.
- Cats forward Lucas Wallmark did not play and was replaced by forward Dominic Toninato. Toninato went -1 with one shot on net in his first NHL playoff game. Look for Wallmark or Aleksi Saarela to be in the lineup in Game 2.
- Each team finished the game with 28 shots on goal, again proving there is a little difference between these two clubs, so, 27 saves for Varlamov and 26 for tough-luck loser Bobrovsky.
- Aaron Ekblad led the Panthers with four shots on goal and logged a game-high 25:34 of ice time to earn Third Star honors behind Pageau and Devon Toews.
- Sail the waves of the world wide web to Lighthouse Hockey for their take on Game 1.