Panthers edge Islanders in Game 4 to tie series
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Defenseman Alex Petrovic scored the go-ahead goal 9:25 into the third period to give the Florida Panthers a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 4 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
For the Islanders, John Tavares continued his stellar play, notching their lone goal, while goalie Thomas Greiss made 27 saves. Florida's Teddy Purcell opened the scoring in the second period and goalie Roberto Luongo bounced back from a tough loss in Game 3 to stop 25 of 27 shots. ''It was a huge character win for our club,'' Luongo said after the game. ''We played the type of road game we wanted to play—simple, hard-nosed, checking away, and we found a way to win. It's a huge win for us.''
The Panthers' victory knotted the series at two games apiece. Game 5 is on Friday night in Sunrise, Fla.
Greiss entrenching himself in Isles’ net
A journeyman backup currently playing on his fourth NHL team (Sharks, Coyotes, Penguins, Isles) Greiss made 38 starts for the Islanders and won 23 games, both career highs, during the regular season, so he was seen as more than a mere hope-for-the-best stopgap until starter Jaroslav Halak returns from the groin injury that has sidelined him since March. The 30-year-old has been establishing himself as not only the starter for the rest of the playoffs, but potentially a long-term presence in net for the Isles.
Greiss has been solid, surviving long flurries of Panthers attacks while making difficult saves. He’s yet to give up a bad goal in this series—on Wednesday, both of Florida's tallies were nearly impossible to stop. While the Islanders have struggled to create secondary scoring and sustained offense, Greiss has kept New York close with a chance to win. Goaltending is the least of the Isles' troubles right now.
Jaromir Jagr finds the scoresheet
Florida's ageless hockey sage has yet to score a goal in the series, but it was his play that led to the Panthers’ first goal at 15:18 of the second period. Using his big body to protect the puck behind the net, Jagr dished it to Teddy Purcell who had a wide-open net.
It was Jagr's best play of the series. Though he's mostly been invisible, he says he's not concerned about lighting the lamp as long as the Panthers win. His efforts against the Isles may remind some fans the Boston Bruins’ 2013 run in which Jagr had 58 shots in 22 postseason games but did not score a goal. He did, however, create offense for his teammates and finish with 10 assists.
Jagr’s career shooting percentage is 13.8. It’s fair to ask whether the 44-year-old is able to keep up with the physical and often faster postseason play. We know he can make any play out there when given time. The question is if he can succeed in an up-and-down game. To be sure, if he can get going he may well be the factor that tips the series in Florida's favor.
The Panthers, for large stretches of the regular season, were the second-best team in the Eastern Conference behind Washington. In this series, they haven't consistently played to their potential. The one time they did, in Game 3, they were thwarted by a coach’s challenge that erased their 3–0 lead and gave the Islanders new life en route to an overtime win. In this game, Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal reversed in the second period when it was ruled that he had pushed Greiss and the puck over the goal line. The ruling seemed to again spark the Islanders, who had played on their heels during much of the early going, and Tavares scored the 1–1 equalizer in the closing minute. After that, New York failed to crack Luongo, squandering a golden opportunity on the power play with 3:33 left in the third period after Petrovic had given Florida the lead.
New York, which finished with just three fewer points than the Panthers in the standings, has been struggling to find production beyond Tavares's line. If Luongo is on his game and the Islanders can't generate consistent scoring, Florida will have a huge advantage. Isles coach Jack Capuano admitted as much in his postgame remarks. "The first period was probably the worst we played all year," he said. "You are not going to win many games when you score one goal and the same guys score. I thought structurally we were pretty good. We didn't create much. We got one line (Tavares, Okposo, Nielsen) creating all of our offense right now. We have to find a way like we did in Florida when we had secondary scoring and the other night here when we had secondary scoring. If not, it's going to be tough."
The Islanders also suffered a potentially damaging loss when defenseman Ryan Pulock, who scored in Game 3, left in the third period with an apparent upper body injury. He was to be evaluated on Thursday, but if he's out for Game 5 and possibly beyond, the Islanders will be hard pressed to keep Florida's offense at bay while they try to solve their offensive imbalance.
Of all the series in this postseason, this one has been the closest and most fun to watch. The Islanders are a plucky team that won’t go quietly despite their problems. The Panthers are a young squad oozing talent, but they haven't quite harnessed it yet. This one could still go seven if the Islanders summon their grit. Hockey fans all over should start paying attention.