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.