After a lopsided defeat to the Lightning in their lone exhibition game, the Florida Panthers were finally kicking off their first game of the play-in series.
Everything that occurred in the past means nothing up until this point. The Florida Panthers – somehow, someway – have managed to put themselves in a position to qualify for the first round. But before they begin to think prematurely about the next round, they have a familiar foe they have to get through first.
Both the Isles and Panthers opened up the game tight, expected not only because it’s the first game but because of the Islanders’ staunch structure. The officials, on the other hand, were beginning to call anything and everything, sending both Frank Vatrano and Mathew Barzal to the box, giving the game some 4-on-4 action.
However, it wasn’t long after the 4-on-4 began that the officials started handing out more infractions. Typically, in the postseason, the refs tend to keep their whistles away and let the game play out. Although, this game proved to be the opposite. Mike Hoffman, like Vatrano, was sent to the box for a rather soft sanction, taking a seat for roughing.
The Panthers managed to kill Hoffman’s penalty, but they were summoned to the box shortly after, as this time, Evgenii Dadonov was the culprit for interference. But once again, the Panthers’ PK unit came up big once again, killing off Dadonov’s penalty with confidence.
As the game started to smooth out with more even-strength action, the Islanders were pressing reluctantly, pushing for the opening goal. Sergei Bobrovsky, on the other hand, stood like a brick wall and denied the Isles twice, back-to-back to keep the game scoreless.
But eventually, the Isles’ pressure started to get to the Panthers defensively as they cracked open. Barry Trotz conditioned his Islanders team to pounce at any given opportunity, which his side did. Derick Brassard picked up a loose puck which was left by Tom Kuhnhackl, feeding Jean-Gabriel Pageau a cross-crease pass. Pageau skated towards the goal and tapped home the pass to put the Isles on the board first.
Soon after, the Panthers found their footing and began testing Semyon Varlamov more frequently. They come close to leveling the game through Dadonov, who forced Varlamov to cough up the puck behind his cage, coming inches away from scoring.
After twenty minutes of play, it was the Islanders who were heading to the dressing room with the first lead of the afternoon.
During the start of the second, Mike Matheson laid a big hit on Johnny Boychuck, causing him to head down the tunnel after he was seen struggling in pain. Originally, the call on the ice for the hit was a five-minute major; however, the officials ended up reviewing the play and downgrading his penalty to a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head, sending the Isles to their third power play of the game.
This time, unfortunately, the Islanders made no mistake and cashed in for the first time on special teams. Anthony Beauvillier one-timed a shot from the point which beat Bobrovsky bottom corner. Suddenly, Florida looked to have the life taken out of them, but they continued to push on.
They started creating more zone time in the Isles’ end, peppering Varlamov with more rubber. Still, despite the increase in shots and zone time, the Cats were unable to catch a break and find the back of the net for the first time as Varlamov turned aside all their shots fairly confidently.
At the end of forty minutes, the Islanders were going back to the locker room with a two-goal cushion, doing a really solid job of limiting the Panthers from any high-danger chances.
In the third, the Cats got off to a perfect start, finding the back of the net for the first time through Jonathan Huberdeau, who slid a backhand shot between Varlamov’s five-hole to bring the Panthers within one.
The Panthers continued to push throughout the remainder of the period, but the Isles closed down the shop and Varlamov remained tall to preserve his side’s one-goal lead. The Islanders would go on to take Game 1 by a score of 2-1, leading the series by a game to none.
Overall, the Cats fell victim to the Islanders’ lunch-pale-type game. Being shorthanded for a good portion of the first didn’t help in terms of getting off to a good start, but the Panthers’ inability to create meaningful chances until the third was too little, too late.
Your Florida Panthers are back in action on Tuesday, August 4 @ 12 P.M. to take on the New York Islanders in Game 2 of the best-of-five, play-in series.