SUNRISE, Fla. — The Islanders were much better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. So was Roberto Luongo, however, and the Islanders and Panthers head to Brooklyn all tied up.
Luongo made 41 saves in a 3-1 Panthers win Friday night, shutting down a much-improved Islanders attack until the closing minutes. John Tavares scored with 3:33 to go on the Isles’ 40th shot of the night to cut it to a one-goal deficit but that was as close as the Islanders got.
Game 3 is Sunday in Brooklyn.
“He played well,” Cal Clutterbuck said of Luongo, who was not sharp in allowing five Islanders goals on 26 shots in Game 1. “We played a lot better. We were sharper, we played a lot more in their zone and you could see how it affected their D. We just didn’t get enough by him.”
Thomas Greiss was also sharp in playing consecutive nights, making 28 saves, but the Panthers’ second line of Jussi Jokinen, Nick Bjugstad and Reilly Smith was the difference offensively.
Smith scored his third goal in two games off a rebound just 4:32 into the game and then he set up Bjugstad for a 2-0 Panthers lead at 6:17 of the second. Both goals came with the Nikolay Kulemin-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey line on the ice and Jack Capuano jumbled two of his lines to break that unproductive trio up after Bjugstad’s goal.
“We left (Greiss) out to dry on those goals,” Capuano said. “It’s not just on those three players, it’s a unit of five out there and we made a couple mistakes.”
But far fewer than they did in Game 1, when the Panthers flew around the Isles zone at will and were only brought down by a few mistakes in a 5-4 Islanders win. On Friday the Islanders played a crisp game, exiting their own end and entering the Panthers zone with more energy.
“Our breakouts were good and we turned it on them tonight,” said Nick Leddy, who set up Tavares’ late goal. “We got pucks in deep, we worked their D. We’re doing the things we did at the end of the regular season, playing how we need to play.”
There weren’t a ton of dangerous chances against Luongo despite the high shot total. He denied Tavares on a scramble around the Florida net early in the second and got a blocker on Ryan Strome’s one-timer from the slot later that period, but the third featured a lot of long-range tosses that Luongo smothered easily.
Still, the Islanders felt better about themselves heading home with a split.
“I don’t think we should’ve won last night and we should’ve won tonight,” Greiss said. “Now we go home and play a strong game at home.”
Sunday will be the first-ever playoff game in Barclays Center and the Islanders not only ramped up their puck-possession game, the nastiness quotient is up, too. The second period ended with all three forwards of each team’s fourth line in the penalty box after a large scrum that featured Casey Cizikas delivering a below-the-belt punch to Aaron Ekblad and veteran enforcer Shawn Thornton making crying gestures at Clutterbuck.
“You’re trying to gain an edge any way you can,” Clutterbuck said. “From my experience, it’s not really a deterrent for our team. We kind of feed off that.”
The Islanders didn’t win Game 2 but they felt better about their game. Perhaps that’s an edge they can use heading back home.