The Florida Panthers (35-34-8) will open the Eastern Qualifiers against the New York Islanders (35-33-10). Their match is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, with puck drop at 3:00 pm. The game will take place in Toronto, as will the rest of the series. Before the break in the season, both of these teams were playing well. The Panthers ended as the 4th team in the Atlantic Division with 78 points, while the Islanders ended their season ranked 5th in the Metropolitan division with 80 points. The teams will play at least three games against each other over the course of the qualifying round, and they could play as many as five games before the victor of the series is decided. The last time the Panthers and the Isles faced off was in December of last year, and in that game, the Isles would win 3-1.
Panthers Seek Redemption After Exhibition LossWhen the Panthers left the ice in March, it was on a good note. They had beaten the St Louis Blues and were on a two-game winning streak following four consecutive losses. Their position in the rankings left them plenty of room to climb, and they seemed ready to fight for one of the Eastern Conference playoff spots going down the stretch. Despite missing their goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, for a short time, they were able to play a good defensive game, and in their four wins prior to the break, they didn’t allow their opponents to score more than a single goal. While not the best in the league, the Panthers were playing good hockey. Unfortunately, it seems that the break wasn’t good for the team.
In their only exhibition game before going into the qualifiers, the Panthers had a doozy of an opponent. They faced off against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, and the result was far from confidence-boosting. When the final buzzer sounded, the Panthers had failed to score a single goal, and the score ended 5-0 in the Lightning’s favor. Throughout the game, the Panthers only managed 26 shots on goal. In net was Sergei Bobrovsky, who allowed 5 of the 34 shots he faced. It’s unclear why the Panthers struggled so much. It could just be rust after such a long and unexpected break, or it could be due to the apparent injuries the team is facing. Both Aaron Ekblad and his defensive partner MacKenzie Weegar sat out of this game. Ekblad’s absence had been expected, as he hadn’t been practicing with the team, but it is unknown why Weegar was unable to play on Wednesday.
Isles Enter Playoffs With MomentumThe Islanders were in a similar position to the Panthers before the break as far as the standings go. Not quite in a playoff position, but with plenty of time and talent to catch up with the four teams ahead of them in the rankings. They likely would have been in one of those playoff spots, if it weren’t for an unfortunate losing streak. Before the break, the Islanders were on a seven-game slide, and out of their last ten, they had only won a pair of games. This could be contributed to an injured defensive corps, as before the break the Isles were missing a few of their key players. This didn’t stop them from putting in a good effort, as, during their seven-game losing streak, three of those games went into overtime, and one resulted in a shutout.
Luckily for the Islanders, the three-month break allowed their team to get back to full health, and now they have a surplus of defenseman to help protect their net. That paid off during their exhibition game. They also played their tune-up game on Wednesday, though to a very different result than the Panthers. They faced off against the New York Rangers, and after a little under a period and a half of the game being scoreless, the Islanders were able to take a lead that they didn’t lose for the rest of the game. The final tally was 2-1. That first goal was scored by Anthony Beauviller, while the game-winner was scored late in the third by Devon Toews. The goaltending was split for this game, with Semyon Varlamov taking the first two periods, and Thomas Greiss taking the third. Varlamov allowed no goals on 19 shots faced, while Greiss allowed the lone Rangers goal and faced 8 shots.
- The New York Islanders are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games.
- The New York Islanders are 15-3-3 when they lead after the first period.
- The Florida Panthers are 11-4 ATS in their last 15 games on the road.
- The Florida Panthers are 9-7 when the score is within one.