Good morning and welcome to “Cats & Coffee,” a weekly segment in which we get you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers have been in a position to win each of the first three games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, but unfortunately enter this week trailing the New York Islanders 2-1 in their best-of-7 series.
On Sunday, it was defenseman Thomas Hickey who scored 12:31 into overtime to lift the Islanders to a 4-3 victory over the Panthers in Game 3 of their opening-round series at the Barclays Center.
“I think both teams will get a big time rest tomorrow, then they’ll get back to practice the next day and get ready for another big game,” Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant said after the loss. “The series is close and it’s going to be a battle.”
After an exhausting week that saw them play three games in four nights, the Panthers will now have a substantial amount of time to recharge before attempting to even up their series with the Islanders in what promises to be a thrilling Game 4 on Wednesday night in Brooklyn.
No one, perhaps, will benefit more from this time off than Florida’s starting goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has spent a whopping 191:41 between the pipes since the series kicked off on Thursday.
“I need the rest,” Luongo said. “Three games in four nights with an overtime, so I'm pretty exhausted right now. I need a couple days to re-energize here to get ready for Wednesday.
“It's a fine line between winning and losing in this league, especially when you've got two evenly matched teams. We found ourselves on the wrong end of it tonight."
The Panthers owned a 1-1-2 record during the regular in games in which they had two-or-more days to recuperate after a loss, and they are confident that they will be able to avoid falling behind 3-1 in the series before heading back to the BB&T Center for Game 5 on Friday.
“We’re going to come back and we’re going to be confident,” Gallant said. "We are down two games to one, but all three games were tight games and could have gone either way. We could be easily up 2-1 ourselves. We have to battle back and get ready for the next game and hopefully get it back to 2-2."
Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead…
GAME 4 - Wednesday, April 20, 8:00 p.m. - Florida at NY Islande
rs(TV: FS Florida/FS Sun, USA, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)
(Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) *WAXE Broadcast Time 8:00 PM; 1240/1270/97.3 The Fan (Southwest Florida)
Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward)
GAME 5 - Friday, April 22, TBD - NY Islanders at Florida(TV: FS Florida/FS Sun, National TBD)
(Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) *WAXE Broadcast Time 8:00 PM;1240/1270/97.3 The Fan (Southwest Florida)
Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward)
GAME 6* - Sunday, April 24, TBD - Florida at NY Islanders(TV: FS Florida/FS Sun, National TBD)
(Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); 1240/1270/97.3 The Fan (Southwest Florida) Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward)
Individual game tickets for the Panthers home games during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs are on sale now. For ticket information please call (954) 835-PUCK (7825) or visit FloridaPanthers.com/Playoffs.
KEEP AN EYE ON
In the absence of injured forward Vincent Trocheck, fourth-year center Nick Bjugstad has been fitting in quite nicely on Florida’s second line in the early stages of this postseason.
The 23-year-old Bjugstad has tallied four points (2-2-4) during his current three-game point streak, including scoring the game-winning goal in Game 2 on Friday off a nice backhand feed from linemate Reilly Smith.
“Bjugstad’s been playing great,” Gallant said. “He’s been real good. He’s a big strong guy that goes to the het. He’s a physical guy and I really like the way he’s playing.”
A first-round pick (19th overall) of the Panthers in the 2010 NHL Draft, Bjugstad played a career-high 22:55 on Sunday and is expected to continue playing substantial minutes even after Trocheck returns.Matheson Shines
It didn’t take long for rookie defenseman Mike Matheson to make his mark on Florida’s blue line.
Matheson, 22, followed-up his solid playoff debut in Game 2 with an even better showing in Game 3, recording his first NHL point with an assist on Reilly Smith’s first-period goal and playing 17:22 – the second-most minutes of his budding career.
A first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Panthers in the 2012 draft, Matheson’s play was so exceptional, in fact, that he was eventually bumped up to the team’s top-defensive pairing alongside Aaron Ekblad late in Sunday’s game.#ReillySmythe
If the Panthers do manage to make a deep run this postseason, expect to see #ReillySmythe to continue gaining steam on Twitter as red-hot winger Reilly Smith looks to build off his torrid start to the postseason.
Smith, 25, has recorded multiple points in each of Florida’s first three playoff games, moving him to the top of the postseason leaderboards in points (8), goals (4) and plus/minus (+7).
Acquired in an offseason trade with the Boston Bruins in exchange for forward Jimmy Hayes, Smith finished his first regular season in Florida with 25 goals and 50 points in 82 games.