The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers will play each other in a best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series when the NHL season resumes. Though there is no date for the games to start, two NHL.com writers have already started the debate over which team has the edge in the series.
David Satriano, staff writer
Neither team was playing well when the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, with the Panthers losing 12 of their final 18 games (6-9-3) and the Islanders nine of 11, including seven in a row (0-3-4). Momentum is lost with the last games taking place months ago, so I’ll give the edge to the team with more depth, the Panthers. They’re led offensively by forwards Jonathan Huberdeau (78 points), Aleksander Barkov (62 points) and Mike Hoffman (59 points), all players capable of taking over a game. Mathew Barzal (60 points) is the only Islanders player with more than 54 points, and only Brock Nelson (26 goals) and Anders Lee (20) scored at least 20 goals. Florida has five 20-goal scorers (Hoffman, 29; Evgenii Dadonov, 25; Huberdeau, 23; Barkov, 20; Noel Acciari, 20). The Panthers also have veteran defensemen Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Anton Stralman. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky proved he can step up in big games by allowing eight goals in a sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
William Douglas, staff writer
There’s no question that the Panthers have more scorers than the Islanders. Florida finished sixth in the NHL in goals (228), and the Islanders were 24th (189). But the Islanders have one big advantage that will get them through a series: experience. The Panthers’ last experience in this type of situation came in 2016, when they last made the Stanley Cup Playoffs; 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr was their leading scorer (66 points; 27 goals, 39 assists) and 36-year-old Roberto Luongo was in goal. They lost to the Islanders in the first round in six games. And if this season is any indication, the Islanders are primed to defeat the Panthers again. New York won all three regular-season games against Florida and had an 8-4 edge in goals. The qualifying round will be about defense, and that’s where the Islanders shine. New York allowed 190 goals in 68 games and was ninth in goals against per game (2.79). Florida allowed 224 goals in 69 games and tied the New Jersey Devils for 28th in goals against per game (3.25). Yes, Bobrovsky was amazing for Columbus in its sweep of Tampa Bay in 2019. But even with that showing, he’s 11-18 with a 3.14 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in 34 playoff games (30 starts) for Columbus and the Philadelphia Flyers. Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov is 13-13 with a 2.57 GAA and a .915 save percentage in 26 playoff games (25 starts) with the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche.
True, the Islanders did win a playoff round last season, but the Panthers have plenty of big-game experience led by forward Brian Boyle (114 playoff games) and Stralman (104). They also have a three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach, Joel Quenneville. Beyond coaching, Florida ranked 10th on the power play (21.3 percent), and New York was 24th (17.3 percent). That’s why the Panthers will win the series.
All good points, but under coach Barry Trotz, who won the Cup with Capitals in 2018, the Islanders have shown they can stymie opposing power plays. The Islanders had the 15th-ranked penalty kill (80.7 percent) and allowed 34 power-play goals, tied for fourth-fewest in the NHL. In sweeping the Panthers for the first time since 2012-13, the Islanders held them to one power-play goal in 10 opportunities and scored two goals in eight chances with the man-advantage. All three games were close: The Islanders won 3-2 in a shootout at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12; 2-1 at Barclays Center on Nov. 9; and 3-1 at BB&T Center on Dec. 12. The Panthers outshot the Islanders in the three games by a combined 108-94, but New York had a 60-41 advantage in blocked shots. The bottom line is Trotz’s players know how to play Florida in tight games, which is why New York will advance.