It will be a familiar opponent for the New York Islanders in this year’s reconstructed NHL playoffs, as they are scheduled to take on the Florida Panthers in the play-in games. The winner of this series will await the seeding of the round-robin between each of the top four teams in the conference.
The Islanders, who finished seventh in the Eastern conference in point percentage, received the seventh seed. New York finished the shortened regular season with 80 points and a 35-23-10 record, two more points than the Panthers despite ending the season on a seven-game losing streak.
Islanders-Panthers Season Review
These two teams met early in the season and often as they completed their season series with the Islanders winning all three games. Their first game was on Oct. 12 in what started a 10-game winning streak and 17-game point streak. Anders Lee and Josh Bailey scored goals before New York eventually won in a shootout.
Their next meeting happened nearly a month later, once again on Long Island with the Islanders winning 2-1. After Mat Barzal and Aleksander Barkov opened the scoring, the game remained tied heading into the third period when Scott Mayfield scored the game-winning goal.
The two teams then faced off in Sunrise four weeks later and New York completed the season sweep. After goals from Devon Toews and Barzal, the Panthers closed the gap to one with a goal from Mike Hoffman. After a late surge in the final minutes, the Islanders were able to add an empty-net goal from Lee to seal it.
In net for the Islanders, Semyon Varlamov started one of the games, and Thomas Greiss started two. At the time, New York was alternating goaltenders every game and it is possible head coach Barry Trotz goes to something similar. Each goalie had chances to run with the starting job, but as the season was suspended, neither goaltender firmly grabbed control.
For the Islanders, they had four different forwards with more than 40 points, but Barzal was the team leader with 60. Both Nelson and Lee reached the 20-goal mark, and 9 players scored at least 10 goals. The injury bug also hurt New York for most of the regular season, which led to low production from certain players.
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The Panthers were much different as they relied heavily on Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov, and Hoffman. The trio combined to score 72 of the team’s goals and had 199 total points. They contributed many of their points on the power play as Florida ranked 11th in the league with the man-advantage compared to the Islanders at 30th.
In net, Bobrovsky received most of the playing time and had a .900 save percentage (SV%) and 3.23 goals-against average (GAA) in his first year under his new seven-year contract. With the Islanders using both netminders, the two combined for better numbers over Bobrovsky with a .914 SV% and a 2.68 GAA.
Despite it being just four years ago, the Islanders have only 6 of their 12 regular forwards still on the team today from their matchup in 2016. Their defense is pretty similar other than the addition of Devon Toews and Andy Greene, but the series was remembered for Greiss. After Jaroslav Halak was injured late in the season, Greiss was given the nod in the playoffs and helped the Islanders win the series in six games.
It started off with a high-scoring affair that had New York pull out a 5-4 win. After the Panthers evened the series at one, the two teams faced off in Brooklyn with Thomas Hickey scoring the overtime goal in Game 3. The Panthers had a 2-0 and 3-1 lead, but the Islanders were the beneficiaries of an overturned goal and scored two power-play goals before winning it in overtime. Once again, the Panthers evened the series at two with a 2-1 win with Game 5 shooting back to Florida.
This time after two overtimes, Alan Quine scored the overtime winner. Then the series ended in Game 6 with Tavares scoring the tying goal with under a minute left in regulation and the double-overtime goal to help the Islanders win their first playoff series in 23 years. In the final three wins for New York in the series, Greiss had played 257:42 and had allowed only five goals.
The NHL is still working out when the playoffs will take place. They have a list of 10 potential hub cities where they could be playing these games likely without fans. Some cities are starting to open up their training facilities, which should allow players to start skating on their own very soon. It is likely the rosters get expanded a bit as well for the playoffs, but all the details have not been finalized.