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Richards: Expect long series from Panthers, Islanders

Former coach says New York needs to 'hold serve' in Game 3

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders, has enlisted the help of Todd Richards to break down the action. Richards will be checking in throughout the series.

Richards, 49, was the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2012-15 and the Minnesota Wild from 2009-11. The Blue Jackets were 127-112-21 under Richards. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in 2014.

The first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders probably didn't end the way they should have. But when you capitalize on giveaways in the offensive zone and get timely goaltending at the other end, anything can happen.

That was the case in Game 1 on Thursday, when the Islanders earned a 5-4 win behind 42 saves from goalie Thomas Greiss. In Game 2 on Friday, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo responded with 41 saves and spoiled what was a better performance from New York.

"I thought the better team in each game lost," former Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said Saturday. "Florida clearly outplayed New York [in Game 1]. New York was an opportunistic team and you've got to give [Thomas] Greiss a lot of credit for how he played in that game.

"In Game 2, it was kind of the opposite. I thought New York did a great job. You could see they probably talked about getting more offensive zone time; they spent a lot more time in Florida's zone. I thought they were shooting the puck and their intent was to shoot and break down their coverage, thus they spent more time in the offensive zone, [but] Luongo was very good."

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm2: Luongo denies Strome with the blocker

Game 3 is Sunday at Barclays Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, FS-F).

Islanders captain John Tavares had three points on Thursday and scored New York's only goal in Game 2. Richards isn't the least bit surprised by what he's seen from New York's top player.

"To me, the great players have something to prove," Richards said. "He's wearing the 'C' for a reason. He's a guy that leads their team, and they take it personal. I'm sure that with the exit last year in the playoffs, they weren't happy with it.

"Sometimes you need to fail to understand what it takes to win. It looks like he's a driven player out there. I thought he was actually better in Game 2 than he was in Game 1. He had three points in Game 1, but I thought he and his line were better in the second game."

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was adamant that Luongo wasn't to blame for Game 1, when he allowed five goals on 26 shots. Gallant attributed New York's goals more to defensive breakdowns and the Islanders' ability to pounce.

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm1: Okposo beats Luongo from the circle

Richards agreed.

"It wasn't the goaltending," Richards said. "[The Islanders'] opportunities were Grade A opportunities. It's hard sometimes as a goaltender when you aren't into the game, and I thought with the way Florida was playing, it was no different in Game 2. New York spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and the goaltender's into the game. Sometimes that's not an easy position for goaltenders to be in, when they haven't seen a lot of shots or a lot of traffic, a lot of movement, and the play is down at the other end. All of a sudden they come down, and there's a great opportunity. It's not an easy position for goalies, but I thought the goals in Game 1 were good goals."

Three points separated the Panthers and Islanders in the conference standings, and it's been easy to see how evenly matched they are during the first two games of this series. Richards said not to expect this one to end quickly.

"I don't think anybody's going to win three in a row," Richards said. "If it's only going to go five games, somebody's going to have to win three in a row here, and I don't think that's going to happen. The Islanders … were able to break serve in Florida's rink. But now they've got to go home and they've got to hold serve.

"A lot of times, that switches the pressure. Even though you're playing at home, you can feed off the energy, and I'm guessing that building is going to be electric. New York's going to come out much like Florida did [in Game 1], with a lot of energy, and Florida's going to have to weather the storm here for the first 10 minutes or so. Luongo's going to have be a big part of that, making some key saves for them."

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