SUNRISE, Fla. — The Islanders were much better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. But so was Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, and the Islanders and Panthers head to Brooklyn all tied up.
Luongo made 41 saves in a 3-1 Panthers win Friday night, shutting down a much-improved Islanders attack until the closing minutes. John Tavares scored with 3:33 to go on the Isles’ 40th shot of the night to make it 2-1, but that was as close as the Islanders got. Dmitry Kulikov scored an empty-net goal with 10 seconds remaining.
Game 3 is Sunday night in Brooklyn.
“He played well,” Cal Clutterbuck said of Luongo, who was not sharp in allowing five goals on 26 shots in Game 1. “We played a lot better. We were sharper, we played a lot more in their zone and you could see how it affected their D. We just didn’t get enough by him.”
Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss also was sharp in playing consecutive nights, making 28 saves, but the Panthers’ second line of Jussi Jokinen, Nick Bjugstad and Reilly Smith was the difference offensively.
Smith scored his third goal in two games off a rebound 4:32 into the game and set up Bjugstad for a 2-0 Panthers lead at 6:17 of the second. Both goals came with the Nikolay Kulemin-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey line on the ice. Jack Capuano jumbled two of his lines to break up that unproductive trio after Bjugstad’s goal.
“We left [Greiss] out to dry on those goals,” Capuano said. “It’s not just on those three players, it’s a unit of five out there, and we made a couple mistakes.”
But far fewer than they did in Game 1, when the Panthers flew around the Isles’ zone at will but were brought down by a few mistakes in a 5-4 Islanders win. On Friday night, the Islanders played a crisp game, exiting their own end and entering the Panthers’ zone with more energy.
“Our breakouts were good and we turned it on them tonight,” said Nick Leddy, who set up Tavares’ late goal. “We got pucks in deep, we worked their D. We’re doing the things we did at the end of the regular season, playing how we need to play.”
There weren’t a ton of dangerous chances against Luongo despite the high shot total. He denied Tavares on a scramble around the Florida net early in the second period and got a blocker on Ryan Strome’s one-timer from the slot later in that period, but the third period featured a lot of long-range tosses that Luongo smothered easily.
Still, the Islanders felt better about themselves heading home with a split.
“I don’t think we should’ve won [Thursday night] and we should’ve won [Friday night],” Greiss said. “Now we go home and play a strong game at home.”
The Islanders not only ramped up their puck-possession game, but the nastiness quotient is up, too. The second period ended with all three forwards of each team’s fourth line in the penalty box after a large scrum that featured Casey Cizikas delivering a below-the-belt punch to Aaron Ekblad and veteran enforcer Shawn Thornton making crying gestures at Clutterbuck.
“You’re trying to gain an edge any way you can,” Clutterbuck said. “From my experience, it’s not really a deterrent for our team. We kind of feed off that.”
The Islanders didn’t win Game 2 but felt better about their game. Perhaps that’s an edge they can use heading back home for
the first-ever playoff game at Barc lays Center.