Florida Panthers (-105) at New York Islanders (-105, 5 o/u)
In a battle of exciting young teams with little playoff experience, goaltender Roberto Luongo was supposed to represent a huge edge for the Florida Panthers (1-2, 0-1 Road) over the New York Islanders (2-1, 1-0 Home). Yet the ace up Florida’s sleeve has played like a four so far, and now the Panthers need to steal a win in Brooklyn tonight or their chances in this series are shot (8:00 PM Eastern).
Luongo entered the series with over 50 playoff starts under his belt, a sizable difference over Thomas Greiss’ zero. Yet it’s the Islanders’ backup goalie who has shown a veteran’s poise, notching a .922 save percentage through the first three games and staking his team to a 2-1 series lead.
With the firepower on both these teams, neither goalie is expected to be posting shutouts each night. But the tragic element of Bobby Lou’s performance so far is that the Panthers have scored first in every game this series, including twice jumping out to two-goal leads in Sunday’s 4-3 OT loss. Perhaps this week’s extended rest – after playing three games in four nights – is just what the Panthers need to clear their heads?
Luongo hasn’t been the only veteran let-down for the Cats. Jaromir Jagr has finally looked like a 44-year-old man in these playoffs. The team’s leading scorer has yet to notch a single point this postseason and, even worse, he’s been a defensive liability. Jagr is a -3 in the series and was caught out of position on Thomas Hickey’s game-winning goal in Game 3.
If Luongo and Jagr want a lesson in how a team leader should perform, look across the ice at number 91. John Tavares has been a beast for the Islanders, matching last year’s postseason point total of six in four fewer games. The captain has the powerplay humming, scoring on 3 of 9 chances this series. He’s also been a machine in the faceoff circle, winning 59-percent.
Yet, despite the Islanders’ efficiency, I’m left siding with the Panthers to have a bounce-back game. Luongo has shown he can shake off a stinker and respond: he has a .928 save percentage this year following a loss where he allowed four goals or more. Look for Florida to have another performance like Game 2 and send this one back to Sunrise evened up.
Pick: Panthers (-105).
(Photo credit: Jared Earle (Originally uploaded to Flickr. Photo may appear cropped.)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/])
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