After blowing their second game in a careless affair, the Florida Panthers were suddenly playing desperate hockey, hoping to avoid elimination.
Dropping the first game was already bad enough, but losing hold of the second because of undisciplined play was practically sealing fate. The Florida Panthers had dug themselves quite the hole to get out of, but with every game from here being a “must-win,” there’s no margin for error at this point, leaving the Cats desperate.
They came out strong to start the first – as expected from any team facing elimination. They matched the Islanders’ intensity early, unafraid to throw the body around to set the tempo early on. But much like Game 1, they were finding it hard to create chances in front of Semyon Varlamov’s goal.
As the period progressed, though, the Panthers started to ease in offensively, working the Isles deep in their end. The new first line of Huberdeau–Barkov–Acciari, which Joel Quenneville changed to create a spark up front, created some good zone time which kept the Isles busy in their zone. But unfortunately, nothing materialized from that pressure.
As a reward for their good play, the Panthers caused Mayfield to flip the puck up and out of play, which handed the Cats the first man advantage of the game. But much like yesterday’s outing, the Panthers negated the power play with 29 seconds remaining when Brett Connolly was called for holding on Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Isles then had 1:31 of their own power play but were unable to capitalize on it.
The Panthers almost ran into some trouble when they left a floating Jordan Eberle unmarked, who ghosted behind Aaron Ekblad to pick up a pass. Luckily, Sergei Bobrovsky stood tall to turn aside the shot. After twenty minutes of action, both sides were headed down the locker room scoreless.
In the second, the Islanders were called for too many men, sending the Cats to their second man advantage. On this opportunity, though, the Panthers wasted no time by capitalizing. Mike Hoffman’s one-timer left a rebound out in front, which Evgenii Dadonov pounced on and slid a pass to an open Erik Haula – who stuffed buried it on the open side to open up the scoring.
Unfortunately, once the Panthers took the lead, they immediately took their foot off the gas pedal, allowing the Isles to take the play to them. This led to all sorts of problems, which incurred some big saves from Sergei Bobrovsky, as well as a nifty defensive play by Aaron Ekblad – who stripped Pageau of the puck as he was heading towards goal on a breakaway.
Ekblad did take an ill-advised penalty, which led to an opportunity for the Isles to even up the game. But thanks to the Panthers’ PK unit, they killed it off with confidence, primarily led by Haula who blocked a Ryan Pulock’s howitzer to keep the Cats in the lead.
The Islanders may have failed to capitalize on their man advantage, but they cracked open Bobrovsky for the first time off a bad break. On a play that should’ve led to nothing, Anthony Beauvillier beat Anton Stralman to the puck, centering a pass to Pageau who was out in front. Pageau took the pass to his stick and wired a shot past Bobrovsky to level the game at one apiece.
Surprisingly, the Panthers didn’t get discouraged and continued chopping at the bit in hopes to regain their lead. They weren’t able to find it throughout the remainder of the second, but their play was evidence of something good potentially materializing.
After forty minutes of play, the Cats had twenty minutes to score another goal and force a Game 4 to avoid elimination – as well as a sweep. The Panthers did just that as they forced Varlamov to take a senseless penalty after he handled the puck out of the trapezoid. They didn’t squander this power-play opportunity as Hoffman fired home for the second time of the series to regain Florida’s lead (2-1).
Instead of sitting back as they usually have after taking the lead, the Panthers, for once, decided to build on it and find that insurance goal. Off relentless pressure from Ekblad, the puck squirted out to Brian Boyle, who popped a shot over Varlamov to give the Cats their first two-goal lead of the series.
Florida did a good job of killing off the remainder of the game but ran into some trouble during the final moments of play when Brock Nelson found a late goal to give his side some life. Thankfully, it led to nothing else as the Panthers closed out Game 3 by a score of 3-2, forcing a Game 4 to be played.
Overall, it was a fairly consistent game for the Cats which we have yet to see from them in the play-in series so far. It wasn’t the prettiest of endings, however, but it was a win nonetheless. The Panthers managed to find a way to get the job done and keep their own zone somewhat tidy. The same effort (and more) is needed to even up this series on Friday.
Your Florida Panthers are back in action on Friday, August 7 (time TBD) to take on the New York Islanders in Game 4 of the play-in series.