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Panthers showing playoff maturity against Islanders

Florida's youth has played pivotal part in first-round series thus far

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

NEW YORK -- Nearly half the players in the Florida Panthers lineup Wednesday are getting their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They're experiencing the ups and downs, the momentum swings, how quickly things can change during the NHL postseason. One could understand if they'd be shaking in their skates.

Instead, these young Panthers are playing as if they've been here before. It would have been understandable if they were rattled in a hostile environment Wednesday, when they were trailing 2-1 in the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Islanders at a raucous Barclays Center.

But the Panthers came out flying in their 2-1 win in Game 4. They controlled the play, spending the bulk of the first period in the offensive zone. Even when they headed to the dressing room for the first intermission tied, despite outshooting the Islanders 10-5, they didn't get frustrated.

Video: FLA defenseman Alex Petrovic talks about scoring GWG

"We didn't let it get to us," said center Nick Bjugstad, 23, who has four points in as many games. "I think that was good by all of us; we just kept going and kept rolling. It's super fun to be a part of."

The Panthers continued to play poised and broke through when Teddy Purcell scored a power-play goal at 15:18 of the second period, a 1-0 lead they failed to take into the second intermission after Islanders captain John Tavares responded with a power-play goal of his own with 15.3 seconds left in the period.

But Florida stayed the course. The reward was 24-year-old Alex Petrovic's first career NHL playoff goal with 10:35 remaining, one that stood as the game-winner.

"I think we all played a solid game tonight," Petrovic said. "It was 20 guys. I don't think there was any inconsistencies in there. I think throughout the whole game, everybody played hard. I think that's a good response from a tough game last game. It's just nice to go home with the series tied."

The Panthers certainly aren't all youth, what with 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr up front, 36-year-old Brian Campbell on the blue line and 37-year-old Roberto Luongo in goal.

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm4: Petrovic fakes, nets wrister for lead

But coach Gerard Gallant has several young players in key roles throughout his lineup, many of them going through this for the first time. He's been pleased with the results through the first four games.

"I think those kids have been outstanding for us," Gallant said. "They're playing real good hockey. Some have hardly played NHL games, let alone playoff games. We tell them, 'Go play your game. We like what you do, go play your game. It doesn't matter what the situation is, it's the first round of the playoffs, work hard.' And so far the kids have been outstanding for us."

That includes 22-year-old forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who gave the Panthers a scare midway through the second period when he briefly left the game after colliding with Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss. But Huberdeau, who plays left wing on the top line alongside Jagr and 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov, quickly returned and was on the ice for each of Florida's goals.

"You learn a lot. It's just exciting," said Huberdeau, the No. 3 pick at the 2011 NHL Draft. "It's my fourth year and having a chance to play in the playoffs is just awesome. The level is harder and there's always pressure on the ice. It's cool to live that.

"We're a confident group and we know what we can do. I think that's why we're here right now. Now, we're just going back home 2-2. It was a huge win for us. Now, it's going to be nice to have the home-ice advantage."

Petrovic split last season between Florida and San Antonio of the American Hockey League, a team that won 45 regular-season games and was expected to do big things in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Instead, it was swept by Oklahoma City in the opening round.

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm4: Jagr finds Purcell to open the scoring

"We didn't get the result we wanted," said Petrovic, who had two goals and 15 assists in 66 regular-season games but already has a goal and two assists in this series. "It just makes us more hungrier this year, even though it's not for the Stanley Cup or anything, but you always want to win. I think everyone in here has one goal and I think we have the team to do it."

The mindset is certainly there, even with the Panthers' younger players. The music wasn't blasting when the media entered the locker room after they evened the series. Instead, they were already discussing the need to come out strong in Game 5. 

"It's a roller coaster," Bjugstad said. "You can't get down when you lose and you can't get up, too happy, when you win. You've got to enjoy this next hour and then move on and get focused for what we've got to do here coming up on Friday. It's definitely good to get a win in their barn. It's a tough building to play in, the fans were into it. It was good to get the win."

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