The Florida Panthers played a good opening period; took back the lead at around the midway point; and then completely melted down the rest of the way in a disheartening 4-2 Game 2 loss to the New York Islanders that has the team teetering not only on the brink of elimination, but perhaps, on the brink of sweeping changes in the offseason.
Mike Hoffman took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and his long range shot eluded Semyon Varlamov 11:16 into the first period to give Florida its first lead of the series.
Despite getting out-shot 13-8, the Cats played hard in the opening frame and looked like they meant business.
Well, looks can be deceiving and deceived we were, because the team that came out for the second period was an utter and complete mess and couldn’t pass, clear the zone, stay out of the penalty box or keep up with the more determined Islanders.
After Matt Martin tied the game at 7:54 off a nifty little feed from Tom Kuhnackl, Aleksander Barkov seemed to right the ship with a beautiful power-play snipe 1:42 later. Huberdeau provided the key screen, stepping out of the way at the perfect moment for Barkov’s shot to rocket over Varlamov’s shoulder, and Keith Yandle and Hoffman drew the assists. Yandle also picked up a helper on Hoffman’s goal.
It didn’t take long for the sloppiness to return and once Hoffman went to the box for holding, New York notched a power-play goal of its own to even the score. Ryan Pulock bombed a low shot under Sergei Bobrovsky’s pad, with the assists going to Devon Toews and ex-Panther Derick Brassard.
Jordan Eberle, who drew the call on Hoffman, would go on to score both the game-winning and insurance goals for the Islanders.
His first goal came with 3:33 left in the second when he was left open to finish off a pass from Pulock with a slick side-step move on rookie Brady Keeper, and his second was a deflection off his leg of Anthony Beauvillier’s power-play one-timer with 9:31 left in regulation that took what little wind was left in the Cats’ sails out of them.
The Islanders only finished two points ahead of the Panthers in the standings this season, but they have beaten the Cats in all five meetings in similar fashion, so tomorrow’s Game 3 seems like a forgone conclusion.
Unless the New York Rangers lose to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, it looks like the Panthers will be the first team sent packing from either bubble, which will do nothing for its well-earned reputation as a laughing stock franchise.
Flotsam & Jetsam
- Mike Matheson was awful again, finishing with 6 PIM, a -2 rating and a game-high four giveaways. Matheson, who was on the ice for the first three Islanders goals, should not be in the lineup for Game 3.
- The pairing of Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar accounted for 9 of Florida’s 28 shots on goal. Good for those two, but too many of the Panthers forwards were passengers in this game. Weegar’s completely unnecessary slash on Anders Lee led to Eberle’s clinching goal.
- Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30 shots and Semyon Varlamov finished the game with 25 saves.
- Brady Keeper and Aleksi Saarela subbed in for Dominic Toninato and Riley Stillman. Keeper made his postseason debut, while Saarela played in his second career playoff game.
- Lighthouse Hockey has the happier side of yet another Florida loss to the Islanders.