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Islanders vs. Panthers NHL Qualifier preview: Schedule, breakdown, predictions

The Islanders meet the Florida Panthers in a five-game playoff series beginning Saturday in Toronto. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The New York Islanders’ second chance at the 2019-20 season is about to begin. 

After the coronavirus pandemic halted NHL play in March — thus giving the team a way to back into the playoffs amid a gargantuan slump — the Islanders nabbed the No. 7 seed based on point-percentage and a higher seed for their NHL Qualifier series against the No. 10 Florida Panthers. 

The best-of-five series will be played exclusively in Toronto, the Eastern Conference’s bubble city, where the Islanders have a full-strength squad to bolster their ranks. 

For the first time since December, the Islanders will have defensemen Adam Pelech and Johnny Boychuk at the same time while fourth-line engine Casey Cizikas is back in his rightful place. 

The hope will be that a full-strength defense will allow the Islanders to revert to their resolute, defensive ways that made them one of the toughest teams in the NHL to score on for the better part of a year-and-a-half dating back to the start of the 2018-19 season. 

Their first real test back from their four-month-long hiatus will put that defense right to the test in the form of the NHL’s seventh-best offense in the Panthers. 

Islanders vs. Panthers NHL Qualifier Schedule

  • Game 1: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, MSG+/NBCSN
  • Game 2: Tuesday, Aug. 4, 12 p.m., MSG+/NBCSN
  • Game 3: Wednesday, Aug. 5, 12 p.m., MSG/NBCSN
  • Game 4 (if necessary): Friday, Aug. 7, TBD
  • Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday, Aug. 9, TBD

Who has the advantages? We break down each side line-by-line:

Islanders vs. Panthers breakdown, series prediction

Islanders 1st Line

  • LW: Anders Lee- 20 goals, 23 assists, 43 points
  • C: Mathew Barzal- 19 G, 41 A, 60 pts.
  • RW: Jordan Eberle- 16 G, 24 A, 40 pts.

Panthers 1st Line

  • LW: Frank Vatrano- 16 G, 18 A, 34 pts.
  • C: Aleksander Barkov- 20 G, 42 A, 62 pts.
  • RW: Evgenii Dadanov- 25 G, 22 A, 47 pts.

Advantage: Islanders- Mathew Barzal is one of the premier playmakers in the NHL and his close partnership with Jordan Eberle has been lethal in the postseason before. If they’re clicking, they’re nearly unstoppable

 

Islanders 2nd Line

  • LW: Anthony Beauvillier- 18 G, 21 A, 39 pts.
  • C: Brock Nelson- 26 G, 28 A, 54 pts.
  • RW: Josh Bailey- 14 G, 29 A, 43 pts.

Panthers 2nd Line

  • LW: Jonathan Huberdeau- 23 G, 55 A, 78 pts.
  • C: Erik Haula- 12 G, 12 A, 24 pts.
  • RW: Mike Hoffman- 29 G, 30 A, 59 pts.

Advantage: Panthers- The Panthers’ “Triple-H” Line is one of the more underrated lines in hockey. Jonathan Huberdeau’s playmaking skills have yielded big numbers for the sniping Mike Hoffman, who is also a power-play specialist.

 

Islanders 3rd Line

  • LW: Tom Kuhnhackl- 3 G, 3 A, 6 pts.
  • C: Jean-Gabriel Pageau- 26 G, 16 A, 42 pts. 
  • RW: Derick Brassard- 10 G, 22 A, 32 pts.

Panthers 3rd Line

  • LW: Lucas Wallmark- 12 G, 13 A, 25 pts.
  • C: Brian Boyle- 6 G, 9 A, 15 pts.
  • RW: Brett Connolly- 19 G, 14 A, 33 pts.

Advantage: Panthers- While Pageau gives the Islanders a considerable boost on the third line, Brassard and Kuhnhackl are wild cards despite having lengthy postseason resumes. On paper, the Panthers have the edge in tenacity and overall skill.

 

Islanders 4th Line

  • LW: Matt Martin- 5 G, 3 A, 8 pts.
  • C: Casey Cizikas- 10 G, 4 A, 14 pts.
  • RW: Cal Clutterbuck- 3 G, 4 A, 7 pts.

Panthers 4th Line

  • LW: Colton Sceviour: 6 G, 10 A, 16 pts.
  • C: Noel Acciari- 20 G, 7 A, 27 pts.
  • RW: Mark Pysyk- 9 G, 9 A, 18 pts.

Advantage: Islanders- They don’t call them the best fourth line in hockey for nothing. The trio of Martin, Clutterbuck, and Cizikas is back and healthy with plenty to prove. This is the Islanders’ identity line and they’ll lead the way with their style of hard-nosed play.

 

Islanders Defense

Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk

Devon Toews – Scott Mayfield

Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock

Panthers Defense

MacKenzie Weegar – Aaron Ekblad

Riley Stillman – Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle – Michael Matheson

Advantage: Islanders- When at full strength, the Islanders’ defense is close to impenetrable. They can play (and beat) you at any style of play and the likes of Leddy, Toews, and Pulock can provide two-way options to help facilitate the offense. 

 

Islanders Goaltending

  • Semyon Varlamov- 19-14-6 record, .914 save percentage, 2.62 goals-against average
  • Thomas Greiss- 16-9-4, .913 SV%, 2.74 GAA

Panthers Goaltending

  • Sergei Bobrovsky- 23-19-6, .900 SV%, 3.23 GAA

Advantage: Push- Varlamov and Greiss might have had better seasons on paper, but Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and is one of the NHL’s best goalies when he’s on his day. The coronavirus hiatus could have allowed him to reset and return to form. 

 

Prediction: Islanders defeat Panthers in 5 games

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