Friday August 07, 2020
Scotiabank Arena | Toronto | Ontario

Islanders look to buckle down, oust Panthers

The Florida Panthers are still alive in their best-of-five play-in series against the New York Islanders, which resumes Friday.

Down two games in the series, Florida won Wednesday's game 3-2 with some help from a pair of bad Islanders penalties, including one for too many men on the ice.

They can't count on the bad penalties when the teams meet Friday afternoon in Toronto, with the Islanders now holding a 2-1 series lead.

The Panthers won 54.2 percent of Wednesday's face-offs, a crucial statistic, especially on power plays. That -- and those two big mistakes -- did not sit well with Islanders coach Barry Trotz, whose team is normally very disciplined and defensive-minded.

"It was a missed opportunity for us to knock (the Panthers) out," Trotz said. "We have to get back to our game. But (the Panthers) are a talented team. They have some star power."

The other penalty was charged to Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov. With the score tied 1-1 early in the third period, Varlamov was penalized for handling the puck outside the trapezoid.

"Yeah, I made a mistake on that play -- very simple," Varlamov said. "I should've handled the puck better."

The Panthers converted that penalty into Mike Hoffman's one-timer goal 34 seconds later. That gave the Panthers a lead they never relinquished.

Florida went 2-for-5 on its power play on Wednesday. New York went 0-for-3 with the man advantage.

"They have a dangerous power play," Varlamov said of the Panthers. "They have a lot of skilled guys. We know that. ... We need to cut our mistakes and play a little bit more desperate."

That star power includes winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads the Panthers with 78 points this season.

On Wednesday, however, Huberdeau sustained an unspecified injury and missed the final five minutes of the game.

"He was battling through some things," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "We'll see how he presents (on Friday). We're hoping he'll be fine."

The Panthers, who need to win two straight games to advance, are severe longshots. Teams that lead 2-0 in a best-of-five NHL series have advanced to the next round 98.2 percent of the time.

To move on, the Panthers will need more contributions like the ones turned in by center Erik Haula on Wednesday. Haula scored Florida's first goal and later came up with a big block of Ryan Pulock's 100-mph blast from the point.

The impact of the puck on Haula's body knocked him down, and he hobbled to the bench. Once there, he was given a huge hug by teammate Aaron Ekblad, who had just come out of the penalty box.

"So much respect," Ekblad said of Haula. "I took the penalty, and for (Haula to make that block), I was just giving him a hug and telling him, 'I have a block for you coming up at some point in this series.'

"It was a gutsy play."

The Islanders, who were ninth in the NHL in fewest goals allowed during the 2019-20 regular season, figure to buckle down on Friday, especially if they get a lead.

Florida, which plays more wide-open hockey, was tied for third in the league in fewest goals allowed (3.25).

Offensively, the Panthers were sixth in the league in scoring (3.30) while New York averaged 2.78.

Florida ranked 10th in power-play conversion rate at 21.3. That ranks 14 places higher than the Islanders (17.3 percent), and that's a trend the Panthers want to continue on Friday.

"The power play was clicking (on Wednesday)," Hoffman said. "It got us momentum. (But) the Islanders are not going to stop until the buzzer blows."

--Field Level Media