Isles come into this one as slight favorites with the over/under set at five
This has been a nightmare for the Florida Panthers. After reaching the postseason for the first time since 2016, Florida has responded by going down 0-2 to the Islanders and face elimination when they play New York tomorrow. So after spending millions of dollars last summer to bring in an elite net-minder and hiring Joel Quenneville to lead your team to the promised land, one has to wonder: how did things get so out of control for the Panthers?
The Panthers are not a bad team. In fact, they are one of the more competitive teams in the league. However, they have moved away from playing their brand of hockey. Instead, they are trying to out-physical the Isles and use good defense to dictate the pace of the game. That does not fit the mold of what the Panthers want to be. This is a team that should be focused on speed and producing offense, but the Isles have managed to fluster them so far.
With a 35-26-8 record, the Panthers finished the season as the 19th best team in the NHL. They did this by scoring a whole mess of goals this season. Florida finished the regular season with the sixth most goals scored in the league. You would think that they would have won more Hockey games with such a good offense, especially when you look at the other teams that scored as many or more goals than them (Lightning, Capitals, Avalanche, etc.). The Panthers are the NHL’s equivalent of the Houston Rockets, who lead the NBA in points per game. The reason they are so good and put up such gaudy numbers is because both teams are high-volume shooters/scorers. When the Panthers can’t get off more than 32 shots per game like they did during the regular season, they tend to struggle. That has clearly been the case so far in the series.
It also doesn’t help the Panthers that Sergei Bobrovsky is having a down year. Bobrovsky was Florida’s prized free-agent acquisition last summer. The Cats gave Bob a seven-year contract worth $70 million. In return, Florida thought they would be getting a former all-star and two time Vezina Trophy award winner playing in his prime. What the Panthers actually got was a 31-year-old goalie with only one playoff series win under his belt who was playing on a new team with a much worse defense. As a result, Bobrovsky had one the worst seasons of his career as a starter going 23-19 and allowing 3.23 goals per game, the highest mark of his career.
Now that the Panthers are in the playoffs, their weaknesses are being exposed by a team that has much better coaching. Isles’ Head Coach Barry Trotz knew that New York didn’t have the offensive firepower to get into a shootout with the Panthers every game. Trotz decided to play the game ugly and defensively because that would be the only way the Isles would win. Using that gameplan, the Islanders have taken a commanding 2-0 lead in the series and hope to complete the sweep when they face the Panthers tomorrow.
Earlier today I picked the Rangers to beat the Hurricanes while also selecting the Panthers to win their game against the Islanders yesterday. The reason I cited for these picks was desperation. Teams with their backs against the wall, facing elimination, usually give their best effort and live to fight another day. I know it seems common, but a sweep is incredibly hard to pull off. However, I don’t think the Panthers are desperate. They certainly didn’t look desperate or hungry or angry after allowing four goals in the final two periods of today’s game. I don’t think the desperation argument works for teams that are fairly new to the spotlight of the postseason, so I guess that argument doesn’t have legs here.
When all is said and done, the Islanders will come out victorious to complete the sweep of the Panthers tomorrow. The Islanders have a great team culture while Florida does not. A quote that stuck out to me regarding the Panthers on NBCSN was, “it’s still okay to lose in Florida.” That is completely true. Florida is not a Hockey town/state. In fact, I don’t even think Floridians know where the Panthers primarily play. Floridians are football first, then basketball, then baseball, and lastly hockey. There’s no motivation for the Panthers to go out and be great because I don’t think anybody cares about them. Look at the way Toronto fans love the Maple Leafs or how Nashville fans love the Predators. The Panthers get no love from Florida, and they’re getting no love from me either. They lose and the Islanders advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs while not hitting the over.