SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Whenever the New York Islanders got behind, they fought their way out of trouble.
And when they finally got the lead, they didn’t give it back.
John Tavares had a goal and two assists, including one that set up Kyle Okposo‘s go-ahead goal early in the third period, and the Islanders beat the Florida Panthers 5-4 in Game 1 of the teams’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Thursday night.
Thomas Greiss survived a shaky beginning and made 42 saves for the Islanders in his first playoff start – the last of them coming off the stick of Jaromir Jagr after Florida pulled its goalie for an extra attacker in the final moments.
“It wasn’t our best game but we certainly found a way,” said Tavares, who was shaken up after getting hit in the leg with a puck but insisted postgame that he was fine. “We have to build on the win and know we can be better.”
Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen and Ryan Strome added goals for New York. And now home-ice advantage in the series now belongs to the Islanders, who can take a 2-0 lead back to Barclays Center if they prevail when the series resumes in a quick turnaround on Friday night.
“You knew it was going to be a battle, they would come out hard, and they did,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t quit and were resilient. We got some timely goals tonight.”
Reilly Smith had two goals, Jussi Jokinen had a goal and two assists and Teddy Purcell also scored for the Panthers.Roberto Luongo stopped 21 of 26 shots, losing his seventh consecutive postseason start going back to 2011.
“Made some big mistakes, but we did a lot of good things in the game,” Florida defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We’ve got to clean some stuff up. It’s obvious things that we see. That’s the frustrating part. I felt we had our game going tonight.”
Florida took the lead on three occasions in the first two periods, and the Islanders came back and tied it every time.
The Panthers – somewhat predictably, since the franchise hadn’t played a postseason game in four years – came out flying, getting on the board just 1:55 into the game when Purcell tapped a perfect pass from Jiri Hudler into a wide-open net to start the scoring.
Later in the first, Jokinen deflected Campbell’s shot from the high slot for Florida’s second goal, and Smith got his first of the night 1:31 into the second period.
And after each one, the Islanders seemed most unfazed.
Nelson and Nielsen had tying goals in the first period and Tavares sent the teams into the second intermission tied at 3-3 when he took a pass from Okposo and scored his sixth career postseason goal.
Tavares and Okposo worked their magic again early in the third, Tavares stealing the puck away from Campbell to set up Okposo and put New York on top to stay.
“A great play by Johnny,” Okposo said. “He was able to pick the defender’s pocket … and I don’t think Luongo even saw it.”
Strome made it 5-3, before Smith got Florida back within one less than a minute later – slamming his gloved hands into the glass in celebration. Greiss made sure that was the last moment Florida enjoyed, stopping 15 of the shots he faced in the final period.
“Had a lot of chances,” Jagr said.
NOTES: Florida was 27-0-2 when scoring at least four times in the regular season, and 36-6-6 when scoring first. … The Islanders also had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in last year’s first-round series with Washington, before bowing in seven games. … Florida fell to 4-4 all-time in Game 1s. The Panthers have never won a series after dropping the opening game, though this is only the eighth series in franchise history. … Jagr played in his 203rd postseason game. The Panthers were playing in their 39th. … The Islanders have won 30 of the 38 games all-time in which Tavares has a three-point night. … The game wasn’t a sellout, drawing 17,422 – about 2,000 less than capacity.