Breaking Down the Islanders vs. Panthers Playoff Series

Andy Graziano
May 27, 2020 - 12:34 pm

The NHL officially announced its plans for a restart to the 2019-20 season Tuesday, with commissioner Gary Bettman doing a televised appearance to outline the league’s plans. The worst kept secret has been a 24-team field that sorts teams by points percentage and has them play a qualifying best-of-five round before the top four seeds in each conference are thrown into a traditional 16-team playoff format. The regular season was confirmed to be completed.

For the New York Islanders, that means a qualifying series against the Florida Panthers. Early reports were that the leading four teams in the East would be seeded by their current position (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia), but Bettman said yesterday those teams would play for seeding. So, no clue as to whom the Islanders would play in the first round of the official playoffs should they advance.

While this is good news for fans longing to see a return to the ice, it doesn’t necessarily mean the league is any closer to resuming play. The commissioner said training camps would not open prior to July as there are still many hurdles to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Players and their families' health and safety are going to be paramount, and there are sure to be conflicting ideas on how to get there. Just as there are those same conflicting, and often confusing, ideas on how to deal with the virus itself.

What we do know, for sure, is that New York will not have Ilya Sorokin available. One, he still has not signed his entry level contract and secondly, deputy commissioner Bill Daly announced yesterday that players cannot sign contracts for the resumption of play, only taking effect for the 2020-21 season, sure to be delayed until December under the league’s proposal.

A rematch of the epic 2016 series is in the cards for the Islanders and Panthers, which ended in six games on a dramatic double overtime goal by then-captain John Tavares, giving New York its first playoff series win since mobile phones were the size of sneakers. Three of the six games went to overtime.

Florida Panthers: 35-26-8 (78 pts), 231 GF (7th), 228 GA (28th)

The Panthers spent significant money, and I truly mean A LOT, on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, to pair with new coach Joel Quenneville. ‘Bobo’ has not been earning his hefty contract in season one in the Sunshine state. He has muddled along to 23-19-6, 3.23, .900 numbers and the team is at the bottom of the league in goals against. 

Up front, Jonathan Huberdeau has come into his own and is a tremendous player. He was having his best season as a pro at the time of the shutdown, with 23-55-78 in 69 games. Supporting him are vastly underrated Alex Barkov (20-42-62) and Mike Hoffman (29-30-59), who, in my mind, should be an Islander. But, we’ll save that for another column.

Ex-Ranger Keith Yandle leads the defense (5-40-45) and Aaron Ekblad (5-36-41). Florida also picked up Anton Stralman from Tampa last summer, and he has provided solid play in the top-four.

New York Islanders: 35-23-10 (80 pts), 192 GF (23rd), 193 GA (6th)

The Islanders were stuck in the mud of mediocrity over 30 games after their tremendous hot streak to begin the season. The pause might not have come at a better time for them to regroup and find their mojo. 

Thomas Greiss dominated Florida in the 2016 series and now finds himself in a 40/60 split with Semyon Varlamov. The two have combined for 2.67, .914 and are sixth in the league in goals against, after Greiss and Robin Lehner led the league in that department last season.

Up front, Mathew Barzal (19-41-60) is their most electric offensive player and the one who drives the bus every shift. Brock Nelson had 26 goals and Anders Lee chipped in 20. New York will be excited they will have Casey Cizikas (leg laceration) back at full strength for this series and will also welcome the addition of J.G Pageau, acquired at the deadline, making their top four lines easy to roll and tough to defend.

Ryan Pulock anchors the backline and was having his best offensive season, with 10-25-35 in 68 games. Devon Toews continues to grow into a fine top-four and while Nick Leddy has seen his offensive contributions fall to nearly nill, he can still outskate anyone on either side. Johnny Boychuk is fine after recovering from a scary laceration on his eyelid and Adam Pelech could be available as well as he recovers from Achillis surgery.

Season series: 

10/12/19: Islanders 3, Panthers 2 (shootout)

11/9/19: Islanders 2, Panthers 1

12/12/19: Islanders 3, Panthers 1

What happens when an unstoppable object collides with an immovable object? This series might provide the answer, as the creative Panthers collide with the defensive Islanders. With no fans and play expected to be sloppy as teams have been off the ice for the past three months, good ole ‘puck luck’ might play a huge factor in this short series more than skill.