A pair of goals from Anthony Beauvillier and the long-awaited emergence of Mathew Barzal sparked the Islanders through to the Eastern Conference quarterfinals by eliminating the Florida Panthers on Friday afternoon in a 5-1 Game 4 victory.
It’s the second-consecutive season that the Islanders won a playoff series, making it the first time since 1984-1985 they have done so — another testament to the stability brought to the franchise since the arrival of GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz.
“Our one end goal was to be the better team and win a hockey game,” Trotz said after the game. “There was no ‘me’ in that. It was all ‘we.'”
Beauvillier continued his red-hot series, further confirming his standing as the Islanders’ top performer during the Qualifiers, by putting his side in front with 8:28 left in the first.
On the goal line to Sergei Bobrovsky’s left, Beauvillier surprised the Panthers’ goalie with a backhander that ricocheted off the netminder’s pads and into the net.
As Beauvillier wheeled the backhander toward goal, Islanders winger Josh Bailey made an overlapping move toward the back of the Panthers’ net, which could have further confused Bobrovsky.
“I was just trying to get it on net and got a good bounce there,” Beauvillier said. “It was huge for us to play with the lead. We played the right way today… It’s a good feeling.”
Less than four minutes later, Beauvillier got his second when the Islanders caught the Panthers on a change.
Barzal — who had been quiet over the first three games of the series — found room down the right-wing on an onrushing 2-on-1 with Beavuillier. A perfectly weighted pass came right to the tape of Beauvillier cross-ice, who one-timed it home.
“I just think right now, Beau is just enjoying playing good hockey and he’s getting rewarded for it with production,” Trotz said. “He’s skating on the puck, he’s working, he’s focused on his job at the moment. That’s the maturity of a good young player.”
Barzal’s linemate, Jordan Eberle, snuffed out all the Islanders’ momentum from their flying start late in the first when he committed a hooking penalty in the offensive zone with 1:31 remaining.
Twelve seconds later, Mike Hoffman struck from his usual spot in the right circle, easily converting the Panthers’ powerful power play to halve the Islanders’ lead.
Barzal and Lee should have put the Islanders up by two in the opening minutes of the second period, but Bobrovsky broke out a pair of highlight-reel saves to keep Florida in it.
Off a Ryan Pulock slapshot on the power play, a save from the Panthers’ goalie came right out to Lee with a wide-open net. Rather than lifting the puck, Lee slapped at it, and his chance was low enough to allow Bobrovsky to get the left pad over. The ensuing rebound came to an onrushing Barzal, who was denied by a windmill save by the two-time Vezina winner.
They did manage to beat Bobrovsky on the power play a few minutes later when Brock Nelson roofed a wrister off the crossbar from the right circle off a feathered cross-ice feed from Josh Bailey to make it 3-1.
New York looked destined to give one right back when Varlamov was out of position when he was knocked down following a save. Alexander Barkov — Florida’s most lethal scorer — had an empty net, but a stick check from Pulock deflected the shot over the net.
“He had a wide-open net and I just tried to make a desperation play and get my stick on puck,” Pulock said. “It ended up being a pretty big play and after that, we started taking over.”
Trotz went on to say that Pulock’s play was a “critical moment.”
While a desperate push from the Panthers was expected, it was the Islanders who had the best chances of the first half of the third period, but Bobrovsky was very much up to the task to keep his side in it.
But Barzal iced the game and the series for the Islanders with 9:26 remaining when he was sprung on a breakaway and snapped a quick wrister over Bobrovsky’s glove before Jean-Gabriel Pageau added an empty-netter — his third of the series — inside the final three minutes.
” It was a heck of a series,” Barzal said. “We know we just punched our ticket to the dance so it starts now.”