John Tavares’ three-point night got the Islanders to a shootout, but no further, as his team fell 4-3 to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at BB&T Center.
Tavares had a goal and two assists, but the Islanders went 0-for-3 in the skills competition. Jonathan Huberdeau had the lone goal for the Panthers.
“It came down to a shootout,” Tavares said. “I thought we did some good things. We had some pretty good chances. It was just one of those games that was a bit slower. You could see pucks bouncing. It was a tough night to generate much through the neutral zone.”
Tavares had another dominant game Saturday, scoring the first Islanders goal, setting up the next two and coming inches away from a pair of third period goals. Despite the captain’s contributions, the Islanders were playing catch up all night, erasing three one-goal deficits.
“It was a tough road game,” said Josh Bailey, who scored the game-tying goal. “That’s the way it goes sometimes; you’re not going to win them all. We’ll take the point, obviously we would have liked the two points.”
The puck was hopping all over the ice Saturday, but it was an errant bounce off a shin pad that led to the Panthers’ first goal. Erik Gudbranson’s wrister deflected off Casey Cizikas at 12:51 for the game’s opening tally.
The Islanders got on the board in the second period, as Tavares set a new career high with his 32nd goal of the season. Anders Lee broke up a pass at in the neutral zone, setting Tavares up for an uncontested breakaway from the Panthers blue line. The Islanders captain made a flurry of moves before ultimately roofing a backhander past Dan Ellis.
Nick Bjugstad put the Panthers ahead 2-1 midway through the frame, but Nick Leddy answered for the Islanders with a power-play goal at 15:37. This time, the Islanders got a friendly bounce, as Leddy’s slapper deflected off Scottie Upshall’s stick before beating Ellis.
The Panthers retook the lead on Huberdeau’s 11th at 9:26 of the third period, but the Islanders continued to press. Tavares came inches away from a pair of goals in the third period, ringing a shot off the crossbar and later having a writer trickle through Ellis before Steven Kampfer cleared the puck out of the crease.
After the near misses, Tavares set up Bailey for the tying goal – a hard one-timer to the top corner.
“No one on our team ever doubts us when we’re down,” Bailey said. “We have a quiet confidence that we’re going to get back into it and tonight was another case of that.”
Michal Neuvirth – who also played the Panthers in his final game as a Sabre – was placed in a tough situation in his Islanders debut. Neuvirth saw 46 shots a week ago, but only saw 18 tonight, a sharp change of pace for the new netminder.
“It was a totally different game, very tough mentally,” Neuvirth said. “I couldn’t get into the game and into my rhythm. It was a tough game to play.”
Ellis made 25 saves in the win.
The Islanders conclude their four-game road trip Monday night in Toronto. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m.