|Islanders bid to push Panthers to brink of elimination|
It's been a long time since the NHL held a best-of-five playoff series, but the New York Islanders have that ancient history on their side after winning Game 1 of the Eastern Conference qualifying round against the Florida Panthers.
The seventh-seeded Islanders will look to take a giant step toward advancing to the NHL's main playoff bracket when they face the 10th-seeded Panthers in Game 2 on Tuesday afternoon in Toronto.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anthony Beauvillier scored and goalie Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves to lead New York to a 2-1 victory on Saturday afternoon.
The win was the first for the Islanders since a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 23. New York lost its next seven games (0-3-4) before the regular season was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12.
Saturday's victory marked a return to form for the Islanders, who are tied with the Boston Bruins for the second-fewest regular season goals allowed (389) in the NHL since head coach Barry Trotz arrived prior to the 2018-19 season. New York has allowed just one goal in four of its five playoff wins under Trotz.
"I didn't know how we would fare today," Trotz said Saturday. "I felt pretty good, but you just don't know until you see what they have to offer."
The Game 1 win indicates the Islanders have a pretty good chance of faring well in the series. The first round was a best-of-five affair during the 1980-86 playoffs, during which the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 49 times in 56 series (87.5 percent). A team that won the first two games went 55-1, with the 1985 Islanders mounting the only comeback from an 0-2 hole.
The Panthers enter Tuesday feeling pretty good after outshooting the Islanders 19-17 over the final 40 minutes on Saturday. Jonathan Huberdeau scored Florida's goal 23 seconds into the third period.
"We got better once the game went on in the second, third period," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said following the game. "Game 2 starts from 0-0, so we have to keep doing what we did in the second half of the game and keep getting better. Keep building on that and we should be fine.
"We're really excited and we're really happy about our late push. Obviously not the result we wanted, but we're going to get better."
Varlamov and the Panthers' Sergei Bobrovsky are expected to face off again in the net. The win for Varlamov on Saturday was his first in the postseason since April 26, 2014. Bobrovsky also made 27 saves in the opener.
The Panthers escaped Game 1 without any known injuries, although center Lucas Wallmark didn't play for undisclosed reasons.
The Islanders had to play most of the final two periods without defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who took a hit to the head in the open ice from Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson. Trotz offered no update Sunday on Boychuk, who missed the final five games of the regular season with an eye injury.
--Field Level Media