The Islanders-Panthers series is shaping up as The Battle of the Bromides.
As we await Game 2 tonight in Florida, we have two hoary sayings representing each team.
For the Islanders, who won 5-4 in a heart-throbbing affair, it was OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS.
For the Panthers, who hurled 46 shots at goalie Thomas Greiss, it was POSSESSION IS NINE-TENTHS OF THE WINNING HOCKEY LAW.
Florida had a mortgage on the rubber most of last night but — in the end — Jack Capuano‘s skaters proved to be the ultimate opportunists.
“But,” as MSG Networks play-by-play ace, Howie Rose, so succinctly puts it, “That’s only one game.”
Correct; but the second contest in Sunrise poses more questions than a combination crystal ball-ouija board can answer and the biggest of all surrounds the goaltending.
1. Does Cappy come right back with The Great Greiss who made 42 saves; so many of them so BIG that only the super finale stop at the very end on Jaromir Jagr merits mention? (Maven’s Answer: Why not go with the winner; Greiss stole the game, didn’t he?)
2. Can Florida’s Gerard Gallant return to aging Roberto Luongo whose big stops are almost impossible to remember? (Maven’s Answer: I expect the Cats’ coach to start ex-Islander Al (The Mambo King) Montoya and bring back Luongo on Sunday in Brooklyn if Montoya fails.)
3. Will John Tavares, who limped off in mid-game after taking a puck to the leg, completely recover his sharpness in time for Game 2? (The Captain, who scored a goal and added two key assists, had — in Butch Goring‘s estimation — “His best game as an Islander.”)
“The pressure,” adds Butch, “is on Florida because the Panthers do not want to come to Brooklyn on Sunday down two games in the series.”
To rebound with a victory, Florida’s skaters — overall, bigger and faster than their foes — will have to prove that in the NHL playoffs, possession is the difference between winning and losing.
Not only did the home club own the puck over the first 40 minutes, but the Cats dominated face-offs and threw more hits than Cappy’s crew.
Despite these disadvantages the Islanders — like a sturdy oak in a hurricane — bent, but never broke.
Down by a goal three different times, New York rallied on red lights successively by Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen and Tavares. The captain’s tally late in the final minute of the second frame deflated Luongo & Co.
Kyle Okposo and Ryan Strome cemented the win with early third-period tallies.
But by anthem time tonight, the previous night’s heroics will seem like old business and another vital element will enter the fray.
“Game 2,” Goring correctly asserts, “will be about mental toughness; which team can best rebound from what was a tough, grinding, exciting opener.”
The ultimate realist, Capuano realizes that, to win again he’ll need better performances in several realms.
“We need to improve in the defensive zone,” Cappy avers. “We gave Florida too much time and space. And we’ll need more secondary scoring the way we got it from Nelson and Strome.”
No question, the Isles were inspired by Captain John – who led by example – but Tavares knows his linemates played as big as he did. Singling out Nielsen, JT calls him, “One of the best two-way players in the league.”
All true; as is the fact that it was only one game and the underdog had the last bow-wow, but now all eyes and thoughts are on Game 2.
Based on the fact that Florida almost ruled Game 1 by puck possession, Cappy concludes with an indisputable statement:
“In Game 2, we will need EVERYONE to contribute!”
The underdogs have barked and bitten. But can they do it again?