The New York Islanders had a chance to close out the Florida Panthers and end their qualifying series Wednesday in Toronto, but uncharacteristic, sloppy errors in the third period denied them that opportunity. They fell 3-2, but are still much in control of their own destiny, with another chance to advance this afternoon.
Anthony Beauvillier, who has been the Islanders’ best forward through the first three games, has the words ‘have fun’ scribbled on his stick across the tape at the top; New York took his advice and had plenty of that through the first two games, winning by scores of 2-1 and 4-2. Wednesday, though, Semyon Varlamov led the third-period collapse with a penalty for playing the puck outside the designated area, leading to a quick power play response by Mike Hoffman. Minutes later, Devon Toews handed the puck to Brian Boyle in the high slot and the ex-Devils and Rangers forward made no mistake, giving Florida a lead they would not relinquish.
New York, after firing 28 and 34 shots at Sergei Bobrovsky in games one and two, could only muster 22 in a lackluster Game 3 offensive performance. The penalty kill, three-for-four over games one and two, allowed two huge power play goals, and the power play went scoreless in three opportunities after converting three of 10 coming in.
Also, the Islanders' top centers were brutal in the faceoff circle in game three, merely another for the laundry list of items that didn’t work so well Wednesday afternoon. Brock Nelson was 6-10, JG Pageau 5-6, and Casey Cizikas 4-6. And as far as stats go, Nick Leddy paced the Islanders with 21:12 TOI, Toews was a close second at 21:03, and Kuhnhackl had a game low 7:56, while Scott Mayfield had a game-high five blocked shots.
It’s been a series exactly as advertised, with New York stifling the Panthers' attack and largely keeping their best player, center Aleksander Barkov, at bay. But, they have only outscored the Panthers 8-6, and each game has been hotly contested. Two-thirds of the Islanders first line look like they are still in quarantine, as Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee have struggled to regain any of the chemistry, speed, and creativity they left on the ice in March.
It’s been the Islanders’ second unit of Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey who have been the most consistent, along with the ever-buzzing presence of the fourth line, which has seemed like they have not missed a beat. The third unit of Derick Brassard, JG Pageau, and Tom Kuhnhackl have been fine in a mostly containment role.
Barry Trotz, as he always does, puts matters into the simplest perspective while looking ahead to game four’s Friday at noon faceoff: ‘“We got a little bit away from our game, and we’ll have to get back to it.”
He likely won’t have Johnny Boychuk, still experiencing the effects of an assumed game one concussion when he was shouldered in the head by Mike Matheson – but Andy Greene has stepped in and done a fine job stabilizing the back six with a solid, veteran presence.
And if they can’t get it done, well, there’s always a modified version of the two best words in hockey: Game 5.