NHL Round One Playoff Preview: Florida vs. New York

When you match them up and compare then on paper, the Florida Panthers look very deep, and very skilled. And that roster had experts and gurus believing that they were simply too much for the New York Islanders to overcome. Especially for the Islanders to do it after not taking a playoff series in 23 years.

But going into Game 4 fans and both teams are probably a bit surpirsed that the Islanders are up 2-1 in the series. Tomorrow night the Panthers will go ino NYC looking for the equalilizing game. It looks like it’s all about the guts to get the glory, since it’s the Islander’s persistence on the ice might which seems like too much to handle for a Florida team that is desperate to snap their own postseason slump that dates back to the same era.

After a second come-from-behind win which gave the Islanders the edge in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, they can take a choke hold with a Game 4 victory in Brooklyn on Wednesday night if the Cats are not on their game.

It’s been 1993 since New York won a playoff series, thus they entered the series one as the underdog to the surprisingly offensive and effective Panthers. Their slump goes back to 1996, but after this season’s performance, many considered them a true Stanley Cup contender, since hey did win the Atlantic Division. But in the post-season, or the ‘second season’ as the players call it, all that goes out the window.

No one would have predicted outside some zealous fans, that the Islanders would have two comeback wins, after an exhausting stretch of three games held over four days. That intensity though, has put them in the driver’s seat, and they can call the shots Thursday night.

They split the two games in Florida, and so New York was able to keep home-ice advantage with Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win in its postseason debut in the Brooklyn digs. The Islanders impressively came back from a 2-0 and 3-1 deficit to push into overtime, and then all it took was Thomas Hickey getting a one-timed pass from Brock Nelson to seal the deal.

“We had a good shift and grinded them out a little bit,” Hickey said. “Somebody went to change, I saw a gap, and an unbelievable pass and (it) just got off my stick.”

Hickey’s grit and grind description of the overtime shift is basically a metaphor for the entire series. The Islanders coming back from a 3-2 deficit to grind out a 5-4 victory in Game 1, and then Hickey’s winner wouldn’t have happened if it had not been for a coach’s challenge that erased Florida’s third goal and put the Isles back within shooting range.

The Panthers looked thrilled to take what seemed like a 3-0 lead in the second period on an Aaron Ekblad goal, but it was quickly overturned after video review revealed Florida was minutely offside.

The overtime goal extends a promising trend for the Isles, who came into this series heavily reling on their top line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen for offense. That trio did play great on Sunday, racking up a goal and four assists, but it was another line of players that included Shane Prince, Ryan Pulock and Hickey who all contributed, logging their first career playoff goals while Nelson had his first assist.

That offense, paired up with a negative trend for Florida for them to lose, that being the inconsistent play of Roberto Luongo. The six-time All-Star made 41 saves in Friday’s 3-1 win but gave up nine goals on 65 shots, in other words, he has a save percentage of only .862. That won’t take you far in the playoffs.

“I need the rest,” Luongo told the local media. “Three games in four nights with an overtime, so I’m pretty exhausted right now. I need a couple days to re-energize here to get ready for Wednesday.”

New York’s goalie, Thomas Greiss, has a measely four postseason appearances to Luongo’s 67 starts, but he has been able to outplay the veteran goal tender in this series to the rate of a .922 save percentage. He looked like he bent too far at times, but he hasn’t quite broken, giving up seven goals but making 78 saves overall in their two wins.

Florida is not out of it yet, they will come strong with the help of forward Reilly Smith who has had plenty of success with four goals and four assists, vet Jaromir Jagr, who has yet to record a point and will be hungry to score. Smith is tied Dave Lowry for the franchise record with goals in three straight playoff games Sunday, but Jagr went without a point for his 34th consecutive postseason contest. So look for that to change as Florida climbs back in the saddle and shows the form they have displayed all season.

Our Pick: Panthers over Isles, 4-1