Roberto Luongo, Bjugstad, and Smith Overpower New York to Even Up the Series.

The Florida Panthers defeated the New York Islanders by the score of 2-1 on Friday night in front of a rocking 18,373 at the BB&T Center. The Panthers were led by their All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo who made 41 saves in their winning effort.

Both teams started off the game by sending their 4th line to the opening faceoff to try to gain momentum. This worked in favor of both sides being that just 42 seconds into the game there already was a scrum. The scrum involved the two team’s enforcers Shawn Thornton and Matt Martin but didn’t amount to anything. Just three minutes later on the Panthers sixth shot, Rielly Smith (his 3rd goal in just two games) scored the game’s first goal off a juicy rebound from Thomas Greiss, assisted by Nick Bjugstad and Johnathan Huberdeau.

Rocco Grimaldi took the game’s first penalty just two minutes later after he took down Islanders center, Alan Quine. This would send the Islanders to the power power where they looked to even up to score. They were able to sustain a good amount of pressure, but with just one weak shot from the point, it never amounted to anything great. Then 12 minutes later Panthers left winger Garret Wilson tripped Islanders left winger Shane Prince resulting in their second power play of the period. Unfortunately, this PP was worse than the first one resulting in no shots. So, the first period ended 1-0 in favor of the Panthers.

The second period started just like the first, with both coaches sending out their 4th line to set the tone, but this time nothing happened. The first prime scoring chance and momentum went to the Panthers at 17:04 of the second period from veteran defenseman Dmitry Kulikov after Greiss shut down his first shot from the slot with a great toe/blocker save. Then just 3 minutes and 21 seconds later Dmitry Kulikov found Reilly Smith behind the net who then found a cutting Nick Bjugstad (who slipped poor coverage from Islanders right-winger Josh Bailey) with a spinning backhand pass and Bjugstad roofed his first of the playoffs to open the Panthers scoring tab in the second period.

With 1:27 remaining in the second period we had our games first major altercation. Of course, you might have even guessed it, it involved both teams 4th line again! The Islanders enforcers went at it trying to gain energy for their team who were down 2-0 at the time. It seemed that everyone on the ice had a man tied up and were going back and forth. Before it all started, the pesky Casey Cizikas gave Panthers D-man Aaron Ekblad a shot below the belt and his teammates didn’t like that and a brawl commenced. After everything settled down, a total of 6 penalties were handed out, with both teams sending 3 players to the box. Believe it or not, each player on the 4th line for both teams got two minutes for roughing with Cizikas getting an extra penalty for the low blow. So, the Panthers went on their first power play, but it resulting in nothing special.

The start of the third period was a slow one, with no team truly gaining momentum. One of the first actions of the period was at the 15:47 mark of the third period when Cal Clutterbuck made two beautiful toe drags to gain the zone and gave Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic no choice but to drag Clutterbuck down and go to the box for holding. The Islanders would then get their third PP of the game. They grabbed three high-quality shots during the 2-minute span, but Roberto Luongo was up to the task and kept the shots out of his net.

Then with 3:33 seconds remaining in the game, the Islanders were able to ultimately get one past the stellar Luongo with their 40th shot of the game. With their superstar, John Tavares corralling Nick Leddy’s point shot off the boards and slamming the puck past Luongo’s right pad for his second of the playoffs. Also, Kyle Okposo grabbed the secondary apple (assist) on the goal. They then pulled goaltender Thomas Greiss for the extra attacker pushing for that tying goal. They only managed two shots, but “Lu” wasn’t having any of it and shut the door. The Panthers would then ice the game on an empty net goal scored by Dmitry Kulikov assisted by Aleksander Barkov at 19:51 of the third period.

New York outshot Florida 42-31 and outhit the Panthers 32-22. While Florida won in the faceoff category 36-27, lead in giveaways 13-9, and blocked shots 12-8. Florida was 0/1 on the power play while New York was 0/3.

First Start Roberto Luongo would earn his first playoff win since 2011 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks after saving 41 out of 42 shots (.976%). While Thomas Greiss, who played a great game, gets stuck with the loss after saving 28 out of 30 shots (.933%).

The series is now tied at one game apiece (1-1).  Both teams will now grab a flight up north to Brooklyn, New York for Game 3 on Sunday with puck drop scheduled for 8 PM. You can catch this matchup on NBCSN, SN, MSG+, or FS-F.

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