SUNRISE, Fla. -- Thomas Greiss kept the Islanders in it long enough for John Tavares to get the Islanders to win Game 1.
Greiss bailed out a shaky Islanders defense with 42 saves and Tavares had a goal and two assists to lead the Isles back from three deficits in a 5-4 win, a wild Game 1 that featured very little defense and some superb goaltending from the unsung Isles starter.
Greiss saved his best stop for last, denying Jaromir Jagr’s deflection with 32 seconds to go to preserve the win in his first NHL postseason start.
Tavares scored to tie it with 21.8 seconds left in the second, then gave the Islanders their first lead of the game early in the third. He picked Brian Campbell’s pocket deep in the Florida zone and fed Kyle Okposo, who ripped a shot over Luongo at 2:33 for a 4-3 Isles lead.
At 6:01, rookie Alan Quine undressed Jakub Kindl with a nifty move and Ryan Strome deposited the rebound for a two-goal Islanders lead. That only lasted 55 seconds, though, as Reilly Smith beat Greiss with a wrist shot to cut it to 5-4.
Referee Dave Jackson gifted the Panthers a power play just over a minute later, mistakenly calling Matt Martin for a slash when it was Campbell who broke his own stick trying to check Martin. The Islanders killed that off.
The Islanders made it to the second intermission tied, as they did the first intermission. It was even more of a head-scratcher how that came to be, since the Islanders did very little in the second to deter the Panthers from controlling play, especially in the Isles zone.
Tavares was in the right place at the right moment, with 21.8 seconds to go in the second, to tie it. Okposo and Nielsen worked in deep on a pinballing puck that went to Okposo with four Panthers going in different directions near Luongo. Okposo fed Tavares, sneaking towards the Florida net on the weak side, and Tavares buried it.
That was a fine finish to a period that could have been disastrous for the Islanders captain. Tavares took a Nick Leddy wrist shot off his right leg earlier in the second, limped to the bench and needed a few minutes to gather himself. With the memory of Anders Lee suffering a broken leg on Johnny Boychuk’s slap shot a week ago, Islanders fans were certainly feeling cursed seeing their most important player hobbled by a shot from a teammate.
But Tavares returned, although the Islanders were awfully flat for the bulk of the second. The Panthers picked up where they left off the first in taking a 3-2 lead just 1:31 into the second when Smith grabbed a puck that caromed off the end boards and roofed a shot over Greiss after Nick Bjugstad beat Brock Nelson on a faceoff.
The Islanders twice rallied to tie the game in the first, converting on two of their precious few scoring chances. Florida’s Teddy Purcell opened the scoring just 1:55 in, tapping in an accurate pass from Jiri Hudler on a two on one after Johnny Boychuk was caught up ice.
The Islanders killed an early power play and tied it on Brock Nelson’s breakaway wrister past Luongo at 6:39. The Panthers got another power play later in the first after a scrum and converted this one, with Jussi Jokinen deflecting Campbell’s point shot past Greiss at 13:51.
On their first power play, the Islanders answered. Tavares rushed nearly end to end and flicked a pass over to Frans Nielsen, who snapped one high over Luongo at 16:46.
Greiss made 27 saves through two periods and was the main reason the Islanders were tied heading to the third. The Panthers were moving around the Islanders zone freely, running numerous set plays that seemed to confuse the Islanders and generated at least a dozen quality chances through 40 minutes.