Isles drop Game 3 to Florida, extending qualifier series
New York looks to clinch playoff berth on Friday
By winning the first two games of their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifier series against the Florida Panthers, the New York Islanders gave themselves three opportunities to advance to the playoffs for a second straight season.
The first of those chances went by the wayside Wednesday afternoon at the NHL’s Eastern Conference bubble site in Toronto.
Despite goals from Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Brock Nelson, the Isles dropped a 3-2 decision to the Panthers, forcing them to play Game 4 on Friday at high noon.
“It was a little bit of a missed opportunity for us to knock them out,” ceded New York head coach Barry Trotz after the Isles surrendered goals to Brian Boyle and Mike Hoffman early in the third period to fall behind 3-1.
“They’re a good hockey team,” added Trotz. “They’re a very talented team, well-coached and have some star power. We got away a little bit from our game, but we’ll have to get back to our game.”
Semyon Varlamov excelled in net for New York in each of the first two games to earn the start in Game 3 despite a quick turnaround following his 26-save effort in Game 2 on Tuesday afternoon.
The veteran Russian netminder steered aside 19 shots, but that 2:47 span in the third period put the Isles behind for good after Varlamov took a delay-of-game penalty for playing the puck in the restricted zone.
Hoffman slapped a one-timer into the New York net just 34 seconds into the power play and Boyle scored on Florida’s next shot to break open a tight 1-1 game.
“They got two quick goals to start the period so obviously it was a turning point and they were able to capitalize on some momentum there,” Trotz said.
“You knew that in a 1-1 game they were going to come with their absolute best effort.”
The Isles pushed hard for the equalizer, outshooting Florida 10-3 down the stretch.
But Nelson’s goal with 1:27 left on the clock was all they could muster against a Panthers defense that was not only defending its net, but its collective playoff life.
“I thought our guys worked hard. They worked for each other. They played a simpler game,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said.
“We’ve had better results when we do that type of game, and against an Islander team, that’s the way you’ve got to play if you want to be successful.”
Erik Haula scored the Panthers’ other goal and Sergei Bobrovsky made 20 saves for Florida, which will look to force a Game 5, which is scheduled for Sunday.
“Obviously we didn’t execute our game plan and discipline was in our game plan and we didn’t do it,” Pageau said.
“It’s unfortunate, but we’re in a good position. Now we just have to focus again. Now we’ll have to play with urgency in the next game.”
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