Islanders vs. Panthers Game Four Preview For 8/7/2020

New York is hoping to close out the series today with the over/under set at five

I am the first person to admit when I am wrong. I thought the Panthers were too mentally weak to respond with their backs up against the wall on the brink of elimination. As it turns out, I was incorrect. Florida was up for the challenge of facing elimination as they earned their first win of the series against the Isles earlier this week.

The Panthers were able to win Wednesday’s matchup even though the Islanders dictated the pace of the game. If I had told you that both teams would be held to just 22 shots on goal apiece, you probably would have guessed that the Isles ended up winning a close defensive battle. Instead, the Panthers bided their time and took advantage of a number of key opportunities on their way to 3-2 victory.

Anybody that has read my recent Hockey previews knows that I cite desperation as a factor when picking teams. If you recall, I said that I didn’t think the Panthers felt desperate enough to respond with their backs up against the wall. Well, Joel Quenneville must have heard what I said because Florida was able to strike first in their last game. The Cats’ first goal came after 24 minutes of the gameplay. Erik Haula would score a power-play goal thanks to an assist from Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman. The Isles would go on to tie the game up later in the period. However, the Panthers responded with two more goals in the third period for the eventual 3-2 win. It’ll be interesting to see which team comes out more fired up today.

I bet you Barry Trotz let his guys have it after game three. Small things and mental errors ended up being the Isles’ downfall on Wednesday. A penalty in the second opened up the scoring for the Panthers, and they never looked back from there. Florida was able to outplay the Isles in almost every aspect of the game. The Panthers had more hits, more face-off wins, more power-play opportunities, fewer penalties, and more blocked shots. It’s certainly possible that the Islanders might have gotten a little complacent on the verge of a sweep. However, I think they come out tonight and get the job done against a team they have been better than for most of the series. They have the coaching experience to close out the Panthers.

Hockey is an unusual sport. Often times statistics don’t tell the whole story. A perfect example of this is last year’s Stanley Cup playoff series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Everybody expected the Lightning to win, even me. It seemed destined to be since Tampa had a more talented roster top to bottom and looked like a statistically superior team to the Blue Jackets in every way. It ended up being meaningless though because Columbus just wanted the series more than Tampa Bay, and their play on the ice demonstrated that. As a result, the President’s Cup Trophy winners ended up being swept in the first round of the playoffs. I think the Islanders are in a similar situation to Columbus. They may not be the more talented team in the series, but grit, good coaching, and a drive to win will eventually lead them up to success.

The Islanders have to finish the series today. If Florida is somehow able to force a fifth game, then I think the Isles are in deep trouble. Nothing good comes from a team allowing another franchise to come back in a series down two games to none. New York knows that if they let Florida come out and dictate the game, then they will lose. The Isles know they have to go out and unch the Panthers in the mouth right away. Don’t let them get anything easy. I think Trotz’s guys are ready to put the final nail in the coffin and end the Panthers’ season. A low-scoring affair allows the Islanders to win and advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Islanders 3 – Panthers 1

Islanders vs. Panthers Game Three Preview For 8/5/2020

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.

Islanders 3 – Panthers 1

Islanders vs. Panthers Game Two Preview For 8/4/2020

The Isles enter this one as slight favorites with the over/under set at 5.5

Game One couldn’t have gone any better for the Islanders. It’s easy to say that after a win, but you could just see the Isles were dictating the pace of game one. The Islanders were able to score in the first and sit back and play defensive hockey for almost the entire game. New York will need to continue to play that hard-nosed, Barry Trotz-style of Hockey if they want to win game two.

Looking ahead to the second game of this matchup, I decided I would ask for some outside help. I had a chance to speak with Jeff Capellini, an avid Islanders fan and a writer for CBSNewYork.com. He was able to answer some questions for me about game two. Here is the transcript of that conversation:

MG: Was Game 1 a fluke (like did the Isles just have a few more lucky bounces go their way), or do you think the Islanders showed their full potential on Saturday?

JC: “I think what you saw in Game 1 was textbook Islanders under Barry Trotz, given the personnel they have. It has long been known that they need another scorer upfront, a big-time scorer. But they have made and continue to make the best of what they have. The Isles play a grind-it-out style that is more about timely goals than constant red lights. They live and die on their defensive structure. It must be sound and their goaltending must be better than just good. I think they checked all the boxes of their blueprint in Game One.”

MG: As a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, I️ know that Sergei Bobrovsky has had his struggles in the playoffs. With that in mind, which goalie do you think will have a better game on Tuesday?

JC: “Bobrovsky was stellar, in my opinion. If you are a Florida fan you have to be encouraged by what you saw from him, given how much he struggled for much of the regular season after getting that massive contract. For whatever reason, maybe the pressure of the big contract he got or his new surroundings forced a huge adjustment period for him. But what we all saw in Game One was indicative of who this guy has been for a long time… Varlamov looked really good in the exhibition game against the Rangers prior to the start of the qualifying round. He’s a quality goaltender. Perhaps some of his weaknesses were masked by the Islanders’ defensive prowess during the regular season, but he’s a guy that can steal you games when he’s on, as he was in Game 1. It’s just a matter of consistency with him. I also think by not making him the true No. 1, Trotz did Varlamov a favor. Thomas Greiss is totally capable of being a No. 1 and could play in this series given that Games two and three are back-to-back. When you have two guys who are of equal ability, albeit with different strengths, and you play both and show confidence in both, there’s a smaller margin for error for either. And let’s not forget, the Isles’ goalie of the future, Ilya Sorokin, is finally signed. Varlamov has to be good or he could find himself being a pretty well-paid backup as early as next season. Greiss will be a free agent after this season, but who knows what Lamoriello will do? He could re-sign Greiss short term and try to trade Varlamov, but he’ll only have that option if Varly is good during the playoffs.”

MG: I guess the last question I have is who do you like in game two?

JC: “I would expect Florida to come out completely jacked in Game 2. You can’t fall behind 0-2 in a best-of-5 series. Granted, the lack of home-ice advantage for teams in this unique playoff format might neutralize the age-old belief that “home ice matters,” but you also have to consider the opponent. The Isles are at their best when they play from ahead, whether it be on the scoreboard or in series games. I think it’s imperative the Panthers go up by a goal or two at some point, because if the Isles go up by a goal or two, I just don’t see them losing this game. They adjust on the fly as well as any team in the league, and they have no problem giving off the appearance of being dominated when really they are shelling up largely by design. The Panthers could have the puck forever, but if they are limited to shots from the perimeter, the Isles will have no qualms about simply lofting the puck out of the zone and resetting, or icing the puck and relying on guys like Pageau and Cizikas to win defensive zone draws and repeat the dump-out/reset process. Also, the Isles may be offensively challenged overall, but they are very good in transition. If Florida gets desperate and starts giving up odd-man rushes, the Isles have enough skill to make them pay. All the more reason why Bobrovsky must be as good, if not better, in Game 2.”

Jeff brings up a lot of good points. You can see why I went to him for some advice. I think the Panthers will have a good bounce-back game and tie up the series tomorrow. I am still a little bit worried about how the Isles’ offense will be able to score on a strong goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky. He wasn’t perfect last game, but he was still pretty damn good. Panthers win it without hitting the over.

Panthers 3 – Islanders 1

Islanders vs. Panthers Preview For 8/1/2020

The Isles open their series against Florida as 1.5 goal favorites with a 6.5 over/under

The New York Islanders will be the second team from the Tristate area to be represented in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The Isles, who finished the regular season sixth in the Metropolitan Division, will go up against the new-look Florida Panthers who placed fourth in the Atlantic Division. One of these teams comes into this series looking hot while the other team still struggles to find an identity.

The Panthers enter this series as the lower-ranked team. Despite playing more games, Florida finished the season with just 78 points. That’s not bad, but it is fewer points than the Islanders had this year, so the Panthers come into this one as the underdog. To be fair, the Isles should be favored in this series. Florida has only reached the postseason once since 2012. Meanwhile, the Islanders come into this one refreshed and ready. It also doesn’t hurt that the Isles were able to complete a playoff sweep of the Penguins last year.

One man is going to be the difference-maker in this series, Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers’ new goalie will be the reason Florida either wins or loses the series. If Bob plays well, then the Panthers will win this series in four or five games. However, if Bobrovsky does not play well, then the Islanders will win this series for sure, probably in a sweep. In order to figure out who to pick in this one, you have to dive deeper into Bobrovsky’s career and look at the numbers and the trends.

Ever since becoming a regular starter in 2012, Sergei Bobrovsky has proven he is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Over the last eight years, Bob was named an all-star twice and was also named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy twice, which is awarded to the best goalie in the NHL. In fact, Bob led the NHL in goals allowed and save percentage in 2016 and also recorded the most shutouts in the league last season. With a 2.54 GAA, Sergei Bobrovsky has shown that he is one of the best goalies in the NHL… during the regular season.

Unfortunately, Sergei Bobrovsky is not the same goaltender during the playoffs as he is during the regular season. As a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, I have seen up close what Sergei Bobrovsky is capable of at his best. From everything I have gathered, I can tell you that Sergei Bobrovsky is nothing more than Hockey’s version of Clayton Kershaw. Just like Kershaw, Bob is good during the regular-season and puts up good numbers against weak teams, but he has never been able to get the job done in the postseason, and it lingers over him like a stain on his permanent record. With an 11-18 postseason record and a Goals Allowed Average of more than three, Florida fans should be a little nervous headed into this series.

So the most important question surrounding the Panthers is which Sergei Bobrovsky are you going to get? Are you going to get the Bobrovsky who helped the Blue Jackets sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games last year? Or are you going to get the Bobrovsky that always lets up a few too many easy goals when it counts? Let’s look at the Panthers’ most recent exhibition game to see where Bob is at. It looks like Florida… (adjusts glasses) lost five to nothing and surrendered three goals in the first period. So Bob is bad right now. This spells disaster for the Panthers.

I am without question picking the Islanders to win this game and the whole series. Sergei Bobrovsky is in the middle of one of his worst seasons as a starter. On top of that, the Islanders have an experienced postseason goalie in Thomas Greiss. Florida is not ready for the spotlight of the playoffs. Islanders win the game and cover the spread, but I’m picking the under.

Islanders 4 – Panthers 1