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Panthers head to the brink of elimination after blowing lead in Game 2 vs. Islanders

David Wilson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

TORONTO -- Sergei Bobrovsky leaned his left arm on his stick and exhaled as he watched a mob gather around Jordan Eberle. For nearly 35 minutes, Bobrovsky had played nearly flawless in goal to keep the Florida Panthers ahead deep into the second period of a Game 2 dubbed "do-or-die" by Mike Hoffman. Now the Panthers were staring down an potential early exit from the expanded postseason.

Florida had scored first -- top priority against the defensive-minded New York Islanders -- and clung to a lead late in the second period until one penalty and Bobrovsky's first real mistake of the series led the Panthers to start unraveling. Ryan Pulock first beat Bobrovsky on a deep one-timer with 6:12 left in the period. Not even three minutes later, Eberle beat the goaltender after the defense let the right wing get a clean look near the net.

Florida, once again, had to play from behind against one of the best defenses in the NHL and never could claw back, even conceding a fourth goal on a power play in the third period. Now the Panthers are one loss from elimination after a 4-2 loss to the Islanders in Game 2 of the qualifying round at Scotiabank Arena

For more than 30 minutes, Florida did everything it set out to do following its Game 1 loss in Toronto. Hoffman gave the Panthers the early lead on a goal with 8:44 left in the first period. After New York evened the score in the second, center Aleksander Barkov quickly put Florida back ahead by finally capitalizing on a power-play opportunity. Bobrovsky was virtually unbeatable in net, too, stopping all 13 shots he faced in the first period and only eventually getting beaten after a disastrous defensive-zone turnover left Bobrovsky staring down two Islanders with no defensive help in sight.

A few minutes later, New York took the lead for good. Eberle squared up near the left faceoff circle with Noel Acciari in his face. The center sprawled for a block attempt and Eberle let him pass. With 3:33, the winger saw open space and ripped the go-ahead goal past the two-time Vezina Trophy winner.

Bobrovsky finished with 31 saves, but he also gave up three goals goals the last 13 shots he faced Tuesday. The Islanders also outshot the Panthers 34-26 and had seven power-play opportunities, cashing in on two.

The second effectively iced their victory. Florida began the third on the penalty kill and defenseman Anton Stralman committed another penalty almost as soon as New York's first power play ended. The Panthers weathered it, then skated freely for about five minutes before defenseman MacKenzie Weegar committed another with 10:50 to go.

 

Florida spent more than 10 minutes playing short-handed Tuesday in Ontario. Right after it crossed the 10-minute mark, Eberle deflected a shot past Bobrovsky, and the Panthers went down 4-2 with 9:31 remaining.

Their season is on the brink and time is has almost run out. By Wednesday afternoon, Florida's season -- up-and-down and ultimately underwhelming all the way until the end -- could be over.

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