The New York Islanders did not leave BB&T Center with a win on Friday night, but they’ll leave the Sunshine State with an all-important split in their opening round series with the Florida Panthers.
John Tavares scored with 3:33 to play in Game 2, but that was all the offense the Islanders had in a 2-1 loss to the Panthers, which tied their series at one game apiece. With the split, the Islanders have home-ice advantage, as three wins at Barclays Center would propel them to the second round.
“We played better tonight than we did last night,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said referencing the Islanders’ 5-4 win in Game 1. “We should be going 1-1 and we are. We’re going back to Brooklyn and we know the atmosphere is going to be great.”
Tavares’s goal – his sixth straight game with a goal – was set up by Nick Leddy, who appeared to deliberately shoot the puck off the end boards, looking for a bounce to the Islanders’ captain. Tavares won his battle in front of the net and potted the friendly carom past Roberto Luongo. Unfortunately for the Islanders, Tavares’ late-game tally came too late, as they couldn’t find the tying goal in the final 3:33 and Luongo was a difference-maker all night, stopping 41-of-42 shots.
“He’s a good goalie,” Leddy said of Luongo. “He’s been in the playoffs before and had big moments. He’s a big-time player. I thought we played a good game, we just didn’t capitalize.”
Much like Game 1, the Panthers jumped out to an early lead, as Reilly Smith converted Nick Bjugstad’s rebound past Thomas Greiss (28 saves on 30 shots) at 4:32 of the first period. This time, the Islanders didn’t have a response, finishing the period down 1-0, despite feeling like they got off to a better start.
“I thought we did some things better tonight,” Ryan Pulock said. “We created some more zone time, we were able to get in on the forecheck. It’s a big part of wearing them down going forward.”
The Islanders made a push in the second period, outshooting the Panthers 16-10 in the middle frame, but couldn’t get on the board, falling behind 2-0 on Nick Bjugstad’s first of the postseason. Ryan Strome’s one-timer midway through the period was the Islanders' best chance, but Luongo turned it aside with a blocker save.
Cal Clutterbuck – who was part of a mini-brouhaha to end the second period – tried to ignite an Islanders push in the third, skating in one-on-five, chipping the puck past Luongo, but just wide. The Islanders got a power play out of Clutterbuck’s effort, but couldn’t build any momentum with the man advantage.
Dmitry Kulikov’s empty-netter sealed it for the Panthers.
Despite the loss, the Islanders are in a good position with home-ice advantage heading back to Brooklyn, where they will play Game 3 on Sunday night. The Islanders said the focus is now about moving forward.
“It’s a long series and things you do in this game, and even though it’s not the outcome you want, it can carry over to the next game,” Pulock said. “We just need to regroup here.”
TAVARES: ISLANDERS MUST DEFEND HOME ICE
GREISS' COMMENTS AFTER ISLANDERS GAME 2 LOSS
CAPUANO AFTER ISLANDERS LOSS: WE PLAYED BETTER IN GAME 2
LEDDY: ISLANDERS DIDN'T CAPITALIZE ON CHANCES IN GAME 2
PULLOCK: ISLANDERS JUST HAVE TO REGROUP