The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers meet for the first time in the NHL playoffs. The Islanders (45-27-10 – 100 points) enter as the first wild-card team, while Panthers (47-26-9 – 103 points) enter as the Atlantic Division champions. The series starts on Thursday in Sunrise, Fla. and the winner will play the winner of the Detroit Red Wings-Tampa Bay Lightning series.
Both teams finished in the top five in points, top seven in goals for and top six in goals against in the Eastern Conference, making this a very close and competitive series. Here’s what you need to know to get ready for Isles-Panthers.
Game 1 – Thursday, April 14 (BB&T Center) – 8 p.m.
Game 2 – Friday, April 15 (BB&T Center) – 7:30 p.m.
Game 3 – Sunday, April 17 (Barclays Center) – 8 p.m.
Game 4 – Wednesday, April 20 (Barclays Center) – 8 p.m.
Game 5* – Friday, April 22 (BB&T Center) – TBD
Game 6* – Sunday, April 24 (Barclays Center) – TBD
Game 7* – Tuesday, April 26 (BB&T Center) – TBD
* if necessary
The New York Islanders went 1-1-1 against the Panthers this season. All three games were memorable, although for different reasons. The Islanders lost 3-2 in a five-round shootout in Sunrise in November and 5-1 at Barclays Center in December in a game where the Islanders outshot the Panthers 34-17.
Most recently, the Islanders staged a stunning third-period comeback, scoring three goals in the final 7:10 of the game for a 3-2 comeback win on March 14 at Barclays Center.
The New York Islanders offense runs through John Tavares. The Islanders captain lead the team in goals (33) and points (70) and when he gets on the scoresheet, good things happen for the Islanders. The Islanders are 21-5-4 when Tavares scores a goal, 34-9-4 when he scores a point and 16-1-0 when he has a multi-point game.
Tavares is catching fire at the right time, finishing the regular season with nine points (4G, 5A) in the final four games, including a pair of three-point efforts against Washington and Tampa Bay.
This is Tavares’ third playoff appearance and he’s proven that he brings it in the postseason. In 13 career playoff games, Tavares has 11 points (5G, 6A).
THE FOURTH LINE
Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas are the Islanders’ fourth line in name only. This trio is consistently one of the Islanders’ most effective lines with their physicality – Martin leads the league with 365 hits, while Clutterbuck was fourth with 288 – but have added an offensive dimension this season. Martin (10G, 9A) and Cizikas (8G, 21A) had career years offensively, while Clutterbuck added 15 goals, his most since 2011-12. They are the Islanders’ heart-and-soul and have a reputation now for coming through in the clutch, as they combined for 10 game-winning goals this season.
Nick Leddy had a career year offensively, hitting 40 points (5G, 35A) for the first time in his career. Leddy quarterbacks the Islanders’ top power-play unit, and tied John Tavares for third with 19 power-play points. Leddy, who didn’t score his first goal until Jan. 2, has stepped up in 2016, recording 28 of his 40 points since Jan. 1. With Travis Hamonic out, Leddy has seen his icetime rise, playing a season-high 29:26 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 31. The Islanders are 11-11-2 when Leddy leads them in TOI, but they’ll need their top offensive defenseman to keep scoring as the playoffs begin.
Barkov led the Panthers with 28 goals this season and finished tied for third in team scoring with 59 points. The 20-year-old is coming into his own as a scorer in the NHL, scoring a team-high eight game-winning goals this season and a team-high .89 points-per-game, making him the Panthers’ most efficient scorer. Barkov finished the year on a nine-game point streak, racking up 13 points (5G, 8A) over that span. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Finn saved some of his best hockey for the Islanders, scoring a team-high five points (2G, 3A) in three games this season.
Age is just a number to Jaromir Jagr, who at 44 years old led the Florida Panthers in scoring with 66 points (27G, 39A). Jagr is in amazing shape, known for his 1 a.m. workouts to keep pace in today’s NHL, and is still a reliable point producer. His 27 goals were second only to Aleksander Barkov and his 39 assists were also tied for second on the team. The Panthers are 31-10-6 when Jagr records a point and 18-2-2 when he scores a goal.
Aaron Ekblad is the Panthers’ top defenseman. He led all blueliners with 15 goals and 36 points and is second in ice time only to his partner Brian Campbell. Ekblad is offensively-inclined, but at 6-4, 216 pounds is big enough to impose his will and be a handful in front of the net. The reigning rookie of the year finished this season with seven points (1G, 6A) in the Panthers’ last six games. Ekblad had one goal in three games against the Islanders this season.
With Jaroslav Halak still recovering from a lower-body injury, Thomas Greiss is the Islanders’ Game 1 starter. Usually, having a backup start in the playoffs would be a cause for concern, but not with Greiss, who had a career year for the Islanders. Greiss set new highs in wins (23) and games played (41), finishing third in the NHL in save percentage (.925). The 30-year-old goaltender has proven himself in big games and is hot at the right time, rattling off a four-game winning streak at the end of the season.
Roberto Luongo had a stellar season in net for the Panthers, going 35-19-6, his most wins since the 2010-11 campaign. Luongo is a savvy veteran goalie and the active wins leader in the NHL with 436. He’s got big-time playoff experience, taking the Vancouver Canucks to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and when he’s on can be tough to beat, as the Islanders found out in December when he stopped 19 first-period shots in a 33-save win. Luongo went 2-1-0 against the Islanders this season.
Jaroslav Halak – Lower Body: Halak was injured against the Penguins on March 8 with a diagnosis of a six-to-eight week recovery. Halak took shots after the Islanders’ morning skate on April 9, but there is no timetable for his return.
Halak, who was the Islanders’ playoff starter last season, is 18-13-4 this year with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
Travis Hamonic – Lower Body: Hamonic was injured against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 31 and was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season. Hamonic skated in full gear during the Islanders’ morning skate on April 9, but there is no official timetable for his return.
Hamonic, who missed last season’s playoffs with a sprained MCL, led the Islanders in average ice time with 23:49 TOI per game. The Islanders are 24-6-6 when Hamonic leads the team in ice time.
Anders Lee – Broken Fibula: Lee suffered a season-ending injury against the New York Rangers on April 7 after taking a Johnny Boychuk slap shot off his leg. Lee had 15 goals for the Islanders this season and was a member of the first power-play unit. At 6-3, 228 pounds, Lee is the heaviest Islanders forward.
Mikhail Grabovski – Upper Body: Grabovski missed 23 of the Islanders final 24 games this season after suffering an injury on Feb. 19. The Islanders forward has 25 points (9G, 16A) in 58 games this season. There is no official timetable for his return.
Vincent Trochek – Foot:
Vincent Trocheck – the Panthers’ fifth-leading scorer – is week-to-week with a foot injury and it’s unclear whether he’ll return for Game 1 of the Islanders-Panthers series. Trochek has 25 goals and 28 assists for the Panthers this season.
Willie Mitchell – Concussion:
Panthers captain Willie Mitchell has been limited to just 46 games this season due to a concussion and hasn’t played since Jan. 18. He is on the road to recovery, skating at Panthers’ morning skate on April 5.