The New York Islanders will go for a sweep of their best-of-five Eastern Conference play-in series against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday afternoon, and they’ve enjoyed the ride so far.
The fun started in the NHL bubble in Toronto even before the Islanders’ 2-1 and 4-2 victories, according to team captain Anders Lee. He organized a team-wide table tennis tournament to fill some spare time at the team hotel.
“It’s been a fun thing,” Lee said. “Everyone is involved. It’s a good hang. We’re enjoying our time with each other.”
That’s certainly the case on the ice.
Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov has allowed just three goals in two games. Winger Jordan Eberle has scored two goals all by himself, both on Tuesday.
The first of those two tallies put New York ahead with 3:33 left in the second period.
The goal was masterful as Eberle waited for young Florida defenseman Brady Keeper to go down in an attempt to block his shot. Eberle then took a step toward the middle — away from Keeper — and caught Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky leaning before firing the puck into the open left side of the net.
“(Bobrovsky) moves over really quick,” Eberle said. “You have to either fire the puck fast or you’ve got to be really patient. I was lucky enough to bide my time, get around the d-man and throw the puck in.”
The Panthers led twice on Tuesday — 1-0 on a Mike Hoffman goal and 2-1 on captain Aleksander Barkov’s tally.
The defeat left the Panthers on the verge of losing their first-round matchup for the fifth straight time.
“We’ve got to find composure in pivotal moments,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said.
Including the regular season, the Islanders have beaten the Panthers six straight times. The Panthers haven’t defeated the Islanders since a 4-2 win on Nov. 10, 2018, but the guys from Florida are still hopeful despite a quick turnaround.
“(Wednesday) is a new chance,” Barkov said. “We’ve got to play smarter than these first two games. We’ve got to play our best game of the series (on Wednesday).”
The Islanders, considered one of the best defensive teams in the NHL, were fortunate to escape Tuesday’s game without a major injury, especially after leading scorer Mathew Barzal crashed into the end boards with less than 12 minutes left in the third period.
On the play, Barzal got off a shot and then was pushed hard by Panthers winger Frank Vatrano. Barzal got up slowly but returned to play the next shift.
The Islanders already are without defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was hit in the head by the shoulder of Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson in Game 1.
Matheson also was fined $2,500 after Tuesday’s game for high-sticking Brock Nelson in the first period.
The Panthers enter Wednesday looking for more offense from Barkov, Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov. Barkov, Hoffman and Huberdeau have one goal each, but Dadonov has no goals or assists in the series.
The Panthers tried to shake things up toward the bottom of their roster on Tuesday, inserting Keeper on defense and center Aleksi Saarela. Their playing time came at the expense of defenseman Riley Stillman and center Dominic Toninato.
–Field Level Media