After dropping the first two games of their best-of-five qualifying-round series to the New York Islanders, the Florida Panthers looked to avoid being eliminated and sent back to South Florida in Game 3 on Wednesday. Behind stellar goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and power-play goals, the Panthers were able to live to play another day.
Florida still has a long way to go against the Islanders to advance, but they have to feel good after putting together their best performance since they arrived in Toronto. It was also their first win of the season over Islanders in six games. They will play Game 4 Friday at noon.
Bobrovsky Strong in Net Again
It certainly wasn’t Bobrovsky’s fault the Panthers dropped the first two games in the series. The first-year Panther kept his team in Game 1 with 27 saves and then made another 30 in Game 2. In Game 3, he was called upon to make just 20 saves, but he had four key stops after the Panthers scored two goals early in the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
Bobrovsky saved his best save for his last. The Islanders closed to within 3-2 with 1:27 left in the game after a shot deflected into the net off of defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s skate. Jordan Eberle found himself alone at the top of the slot with 30 seconds left in the game and Bobrovsky was able to make a kick save on his shot with Islanders captain Anders Lee in front of him.
Bobrovsky struggled at times during the regular season after signing a seven-year, $70 million deal last summer. There were questions going into the bubble about his play, but he has answered them in the first three games. If Florida is going to extend the series to a fifth and deciding game, they will need another strong performance from Bobrovsky in Game 4.
Panthers’ Special Teams Shine
Through the first two games, the Islanders won the special teams battle. With a power play that was near the bottom of the league during the season, New York used three power-play goals to secure wins in Games 1 and 2. They also killed three of the Panthers’ four power-play opportunities in the first two games.
Game 3 was a different story.
On Wednesday, Florida scored two of their three goals on the power play on a pair of gift penalties by the Islanders. A too-many-men on the ice penalty early in the second period led to a Panthers goal from Erik Haula to open the scoring.
In the third period, Islanders’ goalie Semyon Varlamov played the puck out of the trapezoid area and was assessed a delay of game penalty. Mike Hoffman, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, converted on the man-advantage to put the Panthers ahead for the second time in the game.
Florida had a parade of players to the penalty box in the first two games as they were called for 10 minor infractions. They killed seven of those penalties, but in Game 3, they successfully killed all three Islanders’ chances. In what has been a low-scoring series, the power play is coming into play. In the three games, the team that has won the special teams battle has won the game.
Game 4 on Friday
If the Panthers are going to push the Islanders to a Game 5 with a win Friday, they have to continue to play ahead. Chasing goals against Varlamov is not what they want to be doing. They fell behind in Game 1 and were not able to recover. They took a brief leads twice in Game 2, but had no answers for an Islanders’ three-goal second-period rally. On Wednesday, they got the lead, lost it, but got it back for good in the third period and held on.
Teams that have held a 2-0 series lead in a best-of-five series in the NHL have won 55 of the 56 series. The odds are stacked against the Panthers, but they have to continue to take it one game at a time. Each time they win a game to extend the series, the pressure mounts for the Islanders. It would have been easy for Florida to roll over and get swept. Instead, they put together their best 60 minutes in the series and lived to see another day.