Game One started with a bang. And another bang. And some goals. Lots of goals.
The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers slugged it out in the series opener, hitting each other on the ice and the scoreboard. But when it was all said and done, the Islanders walked out of the Panthers’ den with a 5-4 win on Thursday night, taking a 1-0 series lead in the process.
“It wasn’t our best game, but we found a way,” John Tavares said. “Sometimes you need those efforts. [Thomas Greiss] stood tall and we have to build on obviously the win and know we can still be better.”
Tavares (1G, 2A), Kyle Okposo (1G, 1A) and Frans Nielsen (1G, 1A) drove the bus for the Islanders, while Ryan Strome scored the eventual winner at 6:01 of the third period.
It didn’t come easy, as the Panthers outshot the Islanders 46-26, and the blue and orange didn’t hold a lead until Okposo put them up 4-3 early in the third period. Thomas Greiss (42 saves) was better than the four goals against indicated, keeping the Islanders in the game early as the Panthers carried the play in the first two periods.
“Greisser did a great job for us and special teams did a great job for us,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We talk about it goaltending and special teams all the time. I thought we did a pretty good job, they are a big team and they’re fast and physical. They throw a lot of pucks on net from a lot of different angles. We were fortunate to get the win here.”
The game got off to a wild start, the teams going goal for goal and hit for hit in the opening 20 minutes. Florida struck first, as Teddy Purcell tapped in a Jiri Hudler feed past Greiss at 1:55, a shot the goalie had little-to-no chance of stopping. But the Islanders survived the Panthers initial wave and after killing off their first penalty, Brock Nelson took a breakaway feed from Strome and beat Roberto Luongo (21 saves) stick side to tie the score 1-1 at 6:39.
The up and down period continued, with Jussi Jokinen tipping Brian Campbell’s shot past Greiss at 13:51 – a power-play goal – three minutes before Nielsen tied it up with a power-play marker for the Islanders.
Nielsen was the beneficiary of a slick pass from Tavares, as the Islanders’ captain capped off a feisty period by turning Alex Petrovic inside-out, before dishing to his linemate. Nielsen made no mistake, roofing the puck past Luongo from a sharp angle.
Reilly Smith put the Panthers ahead 3-2 at 1:31 of the second period, but the scariest moment came when Tavares was hit by a Nick Leddy shot, causing the captain to drop to the ice in pain. Tavares used a TV timeout to walk it off and stayed in the game, which proved important. Okposo found Tavares on a backdoor play and he scored a crucial goal with 21.8 seconds to play in the middle frame, tying the game 3-3. That goal vaulted the Islanders into the third period with some momentum, as they came out and scored the next two goals in the opening 6:01.
“The timely goals are the big ones,” Capuano said. “The first and last minutes of the period. When you get those big goals probably had a lot to do with it. The guys were resilient on the bench, there was a lot of emotion here tonight. We had some adversity, but we found a way to win.”
Tavares, who was a huge factor on Thursday, picked Brian Campbell’s pocket deep in the Panthers end and fed Okposo, who beat Luongo with a high wrist shot at 2:33 of the third. The momentum carried over even further, as Strome followed it up at 6:01, burying Alan Quine’s rebound for the eventual winner.
“He was excellent for us tonight. Obviously he’s been great for us all year,” Okposo said of Tavares. “He wears the C for a reason. He showed it tonight.”
The Islanders were riding high after going up 5-3, but were not out of the woods by any means. Smith scored his second goal of the game 55 seconds later to cut the lead to one, setting up a thrilling finish. The focus shifted back to Greiss, who robbed Jaromir Jagr in the dying minutes, one of his many superb saves on the evening.
“They pressed hard, especially the first two periods they came hard at us,” Greiss said. “They had a couple good looks at the net, but in the end, we put five up on the other side.”
The Islanders – who essentially stole home-ice advantage from the Panthers on Thursday – return to BB&T Center on Friday night for Game Two. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m.
TAVARES: ISLANDERS HAVE TO BUILD ON GAME 1 WIN
GREISS: IT'S A HUGE WIN FOR ISLANDERS
OKPOSO AFTER ISLANDERS WIN: WE KNOW WE HAVE TO RAISE OUR GAME
QUINE: GREISS WAS AWESOME FOR ISLANDERS
CAPUANO ON ISLANDERS' GAME 1 WIN: GREISS CAME UP BIG
ISLANDERS TAKE GAME 1 IN FLORIDA: HIGHLIGHTS & ANALYSIS