Florida Panthers First Round Matchup Set

The Florida Panthers will face the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With the Philadelphia Flyers’ 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders Sunday evening, the Panthers’ opponent for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been solidified. The game’s result kept the Isles one point back of the New York Rangers and slotted them opposite the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Wild Card standings to finish the season.

If regular season performance is any indication, the series is bound to be a nail-biter. Florida amassed a 47-26-9 record worth 103 points, while the Islanders went 45-27-10 for 100. The Panthers carried the first two regular-season meetings, recording a 3-2 overtime victory on November 27 as well as a 5-1 win on December 15. However, the Isles emerged the winner in the most recent contest between the two teams (on March 14) by a score of 3-2.

A recent article in The Score tabulates just how close the Panthers and Islanders were over the course of the regular season – according to team statistics. The margin between the two teams appears tight when it comes to Corsi possession numbers (FLA: 48.7%, NYI: 49.5%)  and average number of goals for (FLA: 2.83, NYI: 2.77), and against (FLA: 2.44, NYI: 2.57), per game. The stats also suggest that while New York has an edge when it comes to special teams, the Panthers hold the advantage 5-on-5.

Yesterday, ESPN’s panel of experts unanimously predicted a series victory for the Florida Panthers, but these experts also indicated that any such victory will likely come after the Panthers “go the distance” with the Isles – Game 6 or 7. “It’s going to be a battle every game,” Panthers’ Head Coach Gerard Gallant told the team’s official website.

Key Players/Injuries

The series will feature the two teams’ leading scorers Jaromir Jagr and John Tavares, who recorded 66 and 70 points during their respective 2015-16 regular season campaigns. Veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo will try to maintain his impressive .922 SV% and .235 GAA against Thomas Greiss in the Islanders’ net while their go-to goaltender Jaroslav Halak remains injured.

Both teams will start the series with injuries to other key players. According to Harvey Fialkov of the SunSentinel, the Panthers will start without Captain Willie Mitchell or Dave Bolland in the lineup and that Vincent Trocheck, who was injured blocking a shot on March 2, remains day-to-day. However, Fialkov has also reported that Florida can look forward to the return of shutdown defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who suffered an undisclosed injury on April 4.

At the other end of the ice, the Islanders have suffered their own wave of injuries, leaving them without their top defenseman Travis Hamonic and with several key forwards fighting to return, including Anders Lee, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Mikhail Grabovski, among others.

Regardless of who laces up their skates for the series opener, both teams have proven that they are capable of overcoming injury-induced adversity. New York managed a 6-3-1 record over their last 10 games while Florida went 7-3-0.

The Panthers and Islanders will meet for the first game in the best of seven series this Thursday April 14 at the BB&T Center.