The NHL playoffs are here once again! Sadly for this year, the playoffs are not what you usually see. This playoff season is different in such a big way. For this year only, 24 teams have made it to the playoffs. Teams include division-leading teams for each conference, wild card teams, and teams that close to wild card contention. This series will consist of two teams who have met in the playoffs once before. But while one team is looking for another cup to add to its dynasty, the other team is focused on revenge for what happened four years ago. Let’s begin with the New York Islanders first, then the Florida Panthers.
The Hot Hot Isles
Four games into their season, the New York Islanders started 1-3. They knew that if they wanted to be a playoff team, they needed to prove that they could dominate other NHL teams. From the span of Oct 12 to Nov 5, they went on a ten-game winning streak improving their record to 11-3.
The reason why the Isles we’re hot in their streak was due to two key players on their roster, Mathew Barzal, and Brock Nelson. Not only were they hot during the streak, but they were also hot throughout the whole season. With 19 goals and 41 assists for a total of 60 points, Barzal continues to show why the Islanders got such a steal in the draft. Nelson also seemed to show signs of improvement as this is his best season ever with 26 goals and 28 assists for a total of 54 points.
For the Islanders, they may have an advantage over the Panthers due to beating them in all three matchups. The first matchup on Oct 12 saw the Islanders beat the Panthers in a shootout 3-2. Thanks to Nelson, he gave the Islanders the win due to being the only person to score in that shootout. The next matchup got played almost a month later on Nov 9 with the Islanders winning 2-1. The final matchup came on Dec 12 with the Islanders completing the series sweep by winning this game 3-1. Something is interesting about all of these games though. For both the Islanders and Panthers, Barzal is going to be a key player in this series. So the Panthers better figure out how to keep him under control if they want to win it. Now let’s talk about the Panthers.
The Sunny Florida Cats
For this season, the Panthers wanted to fix their goalie issue, and luckily they were able to sign Sergei Bobrovsky to become their new goalie. Bobrovsky put up a 23-19 record, which still managed to put him in the top 10 for goalies this season. The Panthers may not have had a winning streak like the Islanders, but they still managed to put up some great games.
The best example I know of when I think of the Panthers this season is earlier in the year when they faced the New Jersey Devils on Oct 14. The Devils had a 4-1 lead in the second period. But thanks to Brett Connolly‘s two goals and goals from Noel Acciari, MacKenzie Weegar, and Evgenii Dadonov, the Panthers won the game 6-4. While those players had a great game, there was one Panthers’ player who had such a fantastic season. Jonathan Huberdeau, this season had 78 points. Most of his point totals were due to the number of assists he had, 55.
He’s going to need to be an asset if the Panthers want to put on a run for the ages. But Aleksander Barkov could also be another big asset for the Panthers. Just like Huberdeau, most of his points come from his assists with 42. Mike Hoffman was also having a good year with 59 points. But now let’s flashback to that 2016 series to discuss why the Panthers want revenge.
Revenge for the Cats
In 2016, the Panthers and Islanders met in the first round of that year’s playoffs. Game 1 featured both teams playing hot potato when scoring goals. But it was goals by Kyle Okposo and Ryan Strome that put the Islanders over the top 5-4 to take a 1-0 series lead. But the Panthers would not give up as they would win the next game 3-1. Thanks to goals by Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad, the Panthers tied up the series at one game apiece. In Game 3, the Islanders came back to win from a 3-1 score thanks to Thomas Hickey.
The New York Islanders now had a 2-1 series lead, but the Panthers wouldn’t back down. The Panthers then forced a Game 5 thanks in large part to Teddy Purcell and Alexander Petrovic. But the Islanders won it thanks to Alan Quine in double overtime to give the Islanders a 3-2 series lead. Then in Game 6, with the Panthers leading late, John Tavares scored in the final minute to tie the game at one. Once again, the game went to double overtime, Tavares became the hero of Brooklyn when he scored the series-clinching goal. It was the first series the Islanders had won since 1993 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Who Do I Think Will Win the Series?
My prediction is I say the Panthers will win this best-of-five series in four games. It will be tough to take on the Islanders, especially with the players mentioned earlier. But for the Panthers, they have an opportunity to win their first series since 1996. Plus, with some teams like the Panthers being one of the teams that made the playoffs despite not having a wildcard spot, it would be a great Cinderella or underdog story. So my pick will be the Panthers over the Islanders.
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