The Florida Panthers' season is alive for at least a few more days.
After blowing a second-period lead for the second day in a row, the Panthers rallied in the third to beat the New York Islanders, 3-2, and force a Game 4 in this best-of-5 series in the qualifying round of the expanded postseason.
Just seconds after the third period began, an unforced error by Semyon Varlamov gave Florida a power play. The former All-Star goaltender played the puck outside the trapezoid behind the net for a delay-of-game call just seven seconds into the third. Florida immediately went to work on the power play and cycled the puck around the perimeter to Mike Hoffman, set up wide on the of the right faceoff circle. It's a comfortable spot for the hard-shooting winger, and he ripped a shot past Varlamov to give the Panthers their second lead of the game with 19:19 remaining.
Forward Brian Boyle added an insurance goal 2:07 later to give Florida its first two-goal lead of the series at Scotiabank Arena. Florida hung on to force a Game 4 and cut the Islanders' series lead to 2-1.
Game 4 is set for Friday in Toronto. The Panthers will have a much-needed day off after playing back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday.
Everything they've been harping on as a priority throughout this series, the Panthers accomplished Wednesday. They scored first and never had to play from behind against the defensive-minded Islanders. They mostly stayed out of the penalty box, and won the special-teams battle by scoring twice on power plays and denying entirely on penalty kills. Sergei Bobrovsky, who faced only 22 shots and saved 20 of them, limited his mistakes and the defense in front of him made life easier than it was in the regular season.
It was the complete effort Florida had been searching for throughout the first two games of the qualifying round.
For the second day in a row, Florida accomplished its top priority: It scored first against defensive-minded New York.
It was all playing out the same as it had Tuesday, when Florida led deep into the second period, only to watch Game 2 slip away in the final 30 minutes after the Islanders finally broke through for a goal in the second half of the second.
On Wednesday, New York tied the score once again late in the second period. Forward Anthony Beauvillier received the puck near center ice with three Panthers defenders surrounding him. The forward darted to his left and threw the puck off the side wall. As the defense chased, Beauvillier recovered his own pass and threaded a perfect cross to center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who tied the score at 1-1 with 3:34 left in the second.