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Panthers drop playoff opener against Islanders after slow start

David Wilson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

Everything the Florida Panthers spent the last week worrying about -- the slow starts, the early deficits, the defensive mistakes -- was playing out in real time Saturday. The Panthers knew exactly what the New York Islanders were going to try to do in the first game of their qualifying series for the Stanley Cup playoffs in Toronto and, because it's a five-game series, they worried about how one game might shift the balance of their postseason hopes.

Now Florida is running out of wiggle room. The slow start -- exactly what they worried about -- doomed the Panthers in Game 1 at Scotiabank Arena. The offense took too long to find any rhythm, the defense broke down a few too many times and Florida is now two games from elimination following a 2-1 loss to the Islanders in Ontario.

The first 10 minutes were the Panthers at their worst. Less than 90 seconds into the game, the teams went to 4-on-4 action because of a pair of penalties. About a minute later, Florida faced a 4-on-3 penalty kill situation. Less than 30 seconds after they finished killing off the second penalty, the Panthers went on the penalty kill again.

Florida spent four of the game's first 7:12 playing shorthanded and it kept the Panthers playing almost entirely in their offensive zone. Florida didn't put its first shot on goal until 9:20 remained in the first period. The Islanders were outshooting the Panthers, 7-0.

New York committed to a persistent forecheck and it took Florida more than half a period to solve it. With eight minutes left in the period, Riley Stillman tried to chase down a puck deep in Panthers' zone, but Islanders winger Tom Kuhnhackel pressured the defenseman and knocked him off the puck. New York forward Derek Brassard gathered the loose puck and centered a pass to center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who slipped past Florida's defense and knocked in the opening goal.

With 16:31 left in the second, the Islanders added another on a power play. The Panthers left Anthony Beauvillier alone at the point on the right side of the ice and the forward ripped a slap shot past Sergei Bobrovsky. New York's patient, defense-first style is designed to play with a lead and the Islanders could pack in their defense to survive the final 46 minutes, even after Jonathan Huberdeau scored just 22 seconds into the third period.

 

All Huberdeau wanted was one goal. One goal early in the third period, he figured, and Florida would at least have some life to stage a comeback.

There were signs of it in the second period, after the Panthers fell behind by two goals. In the first period, it took them more than 10 minutes to finally put a shot on goal. In the second, they outshot the New York Islanders, 14-7. The Islanders played their game the whole time. Florida needed a period to find its own.

"I thought we played well in the second period," Huberdeau told NBC Sports at the second intermission. "Obviously, we didn't put any in, but I think after we get one we're going to roll."

It didn't happen Saturday. Maybe it can happen Tuesday in Game 2.

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