The Cats avoided joining the New York Rangers on the way out of the Toronto bubble until at least Friday as they earned the right to fight another day (or two).
After being the undisciplined team in Game 2, Florida took advantage of some uncharacteristic mistakes by the Islanders to post the franchise’s first postseason win since April 20, 2016.
The two teams played a rather tentative first period before a too many men on the ice call early in the second put the Panthers on the power play.
Semyon Varlamov couldn’t handle a big Hoffman drive and a falling Evgenii Dadonov was able to corral the rebound and send it across the slot to an open Erik Haula, who scored his first goal in a Florida uniform at the 4:02 mark.
Haula would come up with a huge block on Ryan Pulock later in the stanza with the Islanders enjoying a man-advantage.
The Panthers continued to do a good job of limiting New York’s chances for most of the rest the period, but towards the end of the frame, Anthony Beauvillier beat Anton Stralman to a puck down low and Riley Stillman got caught napping when Beauvillier sent a pretty cross pass to Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who had a step on Noel Acciari, and he one-timed the vulcanized rubber past Sergei Bobrovsky at 16:26.
The shot was the last of only four the Islanders were able to muster in the second, so it was a little disappointing to see the Cats surrender the lead after doing such a good job defensively for most of the first forty minutes.
Varlamov would gift the Panthers another power play seven seconds into the third by playing the puck inside the trapezoid and Florida would make him pay for his transgression a mere 34 seconds later.
After taking a pass from Aleksander Barkov, Keith Yandle faked a shot from center point and sent the puck over to Hoffman on the right wing. Hoffman hammered a screaming one-timer from low in the circle past Varlamov for his second of the series to give the needy Cats the lead back.
The Panthers continued to press and after a onrushing Aaron Ekblad had his shot blocked, Mark Pysyk harried Devon Toews into a costly turnover which Boyle collected and then snapped high into the net on Varlamov’s stick side just 2:07 after Hoffman’s marker.
Florida would hold on to its first two-goal of the series until 18:33 when Brock Nelson’s centering attempt caught Ekblad’s skate in front and went between Bobrovsky’s legs to cut the deficit down to one. Assists on the goal went to Pulock and Toews.
Bobrovsky would shut the door the rest of the way, stopping Mathew Barzal with one second remaining and Anders Lee lurking in front to preserve the win. The two-time Vezina-winner stopped 9 of 10 shots in the third (and 20 of 22 in the game) to get his first playoff win with his new team.
Game 4 will be another noon start and again kick off the NHL’s busy slate of Friday’s action.
While it was satisfying to see the Cats get the win and avoid getting swept, they will need a better effort to extend the series to a decisive fifth game. I’m not trying to take anything away from the Panthers, they played pretty good, but the Islanders looked a little off yesterday and should bring a better, and maybe more importantly, smarter effort to Game 4. The Panthers have got to find a way to get more goals at even-strength and from more players than the usual suspects. Half of Florida’s six goals in the series have come on the power play and one of the three 5-on-5 goals they’ve scored came right after a penalty expired, so if the Islanders manage to stay out of the sin bin, the Panthers might find themselves staring at the wrong end of a 2-1 decision unless they can find a way to manufacture more goals at full-strength. That said, kudos to the Cats, who were on the brink and found a way to win, giving at least one more game to follow in this zany 2019-20 season.
Flotsam & Jetsam
- Teams with a 2-0 series lead are 56-1 (98.2 percent) winning in the best-of-5 format (39-1 when last used from 1980-86). The only team to beat the odds were the Islanders, who defeated the Washington Capitals in a 1985 series. Can the Cats join their current foes in the NHL history book?
- Staring elimination in the face, coach Joel Quenneville made five changes to the lineup inserting Riley Stillman, Josh Brown, Dominic Toninato, Dryden Hunt and Lucas Wallmark and removing Mike Matheson (finally), Brady Keeper, Frank Vatrano, Colton Sceviour anad Aleksi Saarela.
- Jonathan Huberdeau, who has two points in the series, left the game late in the third period. Hopefully, he’ll be back for Game 4 as the goal-starved Cats can’t really afford to be without one of its best offensive players.
- After getting tagged with 20 giveaways in Game 3, the Panthers cut that down to 11 yesterday. Florida only gave the Islanders three power play opportunities after having to kill off seven on Tuesday. They’ll need to keep those numbers low going forward.
- Mike Hoffman was deservedly the First Star, but let’s give some props to MacKenzie Weegar for his Second Star turn. Weegar logged a game-high 26:04 TOI, blocked three shots, had two takeaways, a hit, and finished with a +1 rating.
- It took six tries for the Panthers to finally beat the Islanders this season. Check out what Lighthouse Hockey had to say about it.