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Five reasons Panthers were eliminated

Inability to preserve leads cost Florida in first round

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said throughout the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Islanders that he was happy with the way his team was playing and he repeated that message after it was eliminated with a 2-1 double-overtime loss in Game 6.

"I thought we played a great series," Gallant said. "I'm not disappointed with my team."

Gallant and his players were disappointed about being eliminated in the first round in the Panthers' second Stanley Cup Playoff appearance since 2000. They had set Panthers records for regular season victories (47) and points (103), but came up short in their quest for their first playoff series victory since 1996.

Here are five reasons the Panthers were eliminated from the playoffs:

1. Overtime blues: What made the Panthers' playoff exit particularly painful was that three of the losses came in overtime. They became the 29th team in Stanley Cup Playoff history, and the first since the 2014 New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final, to lose three games of a series in overtime.

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm5: Greiss robs Barkov's penalty shot in OT

Credit has to go to the Islanders for their play past regulation, but the Panthers came excruciatingly close in the final two games to being the team to come away with the victory. Aleksander Barkov had an overtime penalty shot in Game 5, but after going 5-for-6 in shootout attempts during the regular season, he was stopped by Thomas Greiss. In Game 6, Reilly Smith hit the crossbar with a quick turnaround shot from the slot.

2. Letting leads slip away: The Panthers twice squandered two-goal leads in the third period against the Islanders during the regular season, and their inability to hold a lead proved huge in the series.

The Panthers led at some point in every game in the series except for Game 5, when they fell behind 1-0 in what ended as a 2-1 double-overtime loss. They had the lead for a total of 171:43 (39.1 percent of the series), compared to 45:54 for the Islanders (10.4 percent).

The trend began with Game 1 when the Panthers had three leads (1-0, 2-1, 3-2) before losing 5-4. In Game 3 the Panthers had leads of 2-0 and 3-1.

In Game 6, the Panthers were less than one minute away from forcing a Game 7 when Tavares scored with the Islanders having an extra attacker.

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm6: Tavares swoops in, ties it late in 3rd

3. Untimely penalties: In a series where every game, except for one that featured an empty-net goal, was decided by one goal and three went to overtime, the margin for error was minuscule. And the Panthers didn't help their cause with penalties.

The most glaring example came in Game 5, when Alan Quine's double-overtime goal for the Islanders came on the power play after center Derek MacKenzie was called for slashing.

Penalties also played a key role in Game 3. The game turned after a goal by Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad that would have made it 3-0 in the second period was disallowed after a coach's challenge. But it was penalties that helped the Islanders tie the game in the second.

Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock scored on a 5-on-3 to make it 2-1 after Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic was called for cross-checking and forward Jussi Jokinen was penalized for holding. The Islanders' Frans Nielsen made it 3-3 when he scored with Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in the penalty box for clipping.

4. Hurting centers: The Panthers acquired veterans Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell prior to the NHL Trade Deadline to give themselves three lines capable of consistently producing on offense in the playoffs, but that idea was derailed by the late-season foot injury that forced Vincent Trocheck to sit out the first four games against the Islanders.

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm3: Smith nets his fourth goal of playoffs

The second line with Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen still produced with Nick Bjugstad at center, but the Panthers got practically nothing offensively out of their third line after Purcell scored the first goal of the series two minutes into Game 1. Purcell did have a power-play goal in Game 4.

Rocco Grimaldi impressed as the third-line center in the final games of the regular season, but he was reassigned to Portland of the American Hockey League midway through the series because Gallant was unhappy with his work in the defensive zone and along the boards.

Trocheck returned in Game 5 and was reunited with Smith and Jokinen in the second period, but then Bjugstad sustained an upper-body injury early in the second overtime and missed Game 6.

5. Too much Tavares and Greiss: The Panthers played well enough to win this series, and it could be argued they outplayed the Islanders for most of the way.

But Tavares and Greiss were the two best players in the series, and the Panthers simply didn't have enough answers for either of them.

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm6: Tavares wraps around for GWG to clinch

"Tip your hat to their goalie, he played an unbelievable round," Panthers forward Shawn Thornton said. "Their captain [Tavares] stood on his head too. All those games could have gone either way."

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