On a feisty Friday night in Florida, the Panthers found their regular season groove and defeated the Islanders, 3–1. Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Dmitry Kulikov each recorded a goal and an assist, while Roberto Luongo was sensational with 41 saves, thwarting a late Isles rally. Thomas Greiss was solid in defeat, stopping 28 shots, and John Tavares scored his second goal of the playoffs.
The victory evened the series at 1–1. Game 3 is Sunday night in Brooklyn.
Here are three thoughts on Friday's game:
Panthers find a second-line star
The best player in the first two games of this series has been Panthers forward Smith, who has scored five points already this postseason. This comes after a regular season in which he scored 25 goals, a career high. The Panthers absolutely stole Smith from the Bruins, giving up Jimmy Hayes, who underachieved in Boston with just 13 goals. Having a steady offensive threat on the second line takes major pressure off Jaromir Jagr, who has yet to score a point. And with forward Vincent Trocheck’s status still in question, Smith’s hot start means the Panthers can survive his loss.
Series already starting to get punchy
For two teams with no playoff history and no real rivalry, the amount of after-the-whistle jostling has been remarkable. It led to a rash of penalties to end the second period after a big scrum, and every stoppage of play has led to punches, spears and shoves. The Islanders were undoubtedly frustrated at their inability to get pucks past Luongo; the 37-year-old stood tall despite persistent peppering from the Isles.
With the series transitioning to Brooklyn, it will be interesting to see if the Islanders continue the toughness. The home crowd will surely love the fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck running into guys all over the Barclays ice. The Islanders are much more suited for physical play than the Panthers, which could give them a big advantage at home. Of course, they have to first break through Luongo.
Johnny and the Tavareses
Tavares is the best player on the Islanders by a country mile. His goal with 3:33 left in the third was his second in the playoffs, and it was the type of dirty playoff goal great players and captains score. But it’s evident that he doesn’t really have an adequate supporting cast. The Islanders’ fourth line is effective, and players like Kyle Okposo, Nick Leddy and Frans Nielsen are good. But here’s the difference: Each Panthers line is really good, and they build off each other, allowing coach Gerard Gallant to play them like pieces of an orchestra.
The Islanders are really just Tavares and a few supporting parts. That puts undue pressure on the 25-year-old center. After the Islanders scored their first goal with three minutes left, it felt like Tavares was out there for the rest of the game. That’s not sustainable, especially if they are to make a deep playoff run into June. If he doesn’t have it, which player can the Islanders count on for big time goals? If they’re relying on the fourth line, they might be in trouble.