Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round felt eerily similar to the first three games of the series. Florida scored first, the teams went back and forth exchanging chances but neither ever really felt like they were in control of the game. And eventually, time ran out on whichever team happened to be behind.
With the Islanders coming off their dramatic overtime win in Game 3, including the controversial overturn of a Panthers goal, New York was hoping to take a 3-1 lead in the series in front of their home fans. Even with a raucous crowd, the Islanders came out flat once again; however unlike Games 1-3, they did not concede an early goal. Each team had a power play in the first period, both nearly scoring, and also giving up short handed chances. But for the first time in the series, neither team scored before the break.
The second period saw more penalties, more end to end action and finally some goals. There was also more controversy. Jaromir Jagr sent Jonathan Huberdeau on a breakaway with Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock in pursuit. Thomas Greiss made the initial save but as the mass of humanity crashed into the net, the puck ended up over the line. There was no goal call on the ice, and the play was reviewed and upheld by the NHL Situation Room. Panthers Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged the play and was again denied by the referees – losing his timeout for what seemed to be an obvious result. While it looked as if Pulock gave Huberdeau a shove into Greiss, the ruling was that Huberdeau interfered with Greiss’ ability to keep the puck out of the net.
Later in the period, Florida capitalized on a Matt Martin penalty with Jagr setting up Teddy Purcell for the 1-0 lead. The assist gave Jagr his 200th career playoff point, putting him 5th on the all-time list. With time running out in the period, Aleksander Barkov and Dmitry Kulikov took back to back penalties giving the Islanders a 5 on 3 power play for 39 seconds. The Islanders poured on the pressure and just as Barkov returned to the ice, John Tavares tied the game at 1. Continuing his stellar play, “JT” earned his 7th point of the series, stick-handling in tight on Roberto Luongo before roofing the puck short side.
Again, in the third period, the teams exchanged penalties and chances with both Greiss and Luongo making key saves. With 10 minutes left in the game, Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic beat Greiss far side after deking from the point to clear the shooting lane. Not known for his scoring prowess, Petrovic’s wrist shot proved to be the game winner as the Islanders could not convert against Luongo even with a power play and numerous chances at the Florida net as time ran out.
Game 5 takes place on Friday back in Sunrise, FL. There is no reason to expect that game to be any different than its predecessors as these two young, speedy and inconsistent teams fight for the 3-2 series lead.