Islanders beat Panthers in 2OTs to end playoff drought

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders' long playoff drought is over.

John Tavares tied the score in the final minute of regulation and got the winner at 10:41 of the second overtime, leading the Islanders past the Florida Panthers 2-1 Sunday night and into the second round for the first time since 1993.

"It's time we had to get over this hump and push forward," Tavares said. "I don't think we tried to put too much pressure on ourselves knowing we weren't here for all of that, but certainly a lot us have been here for a while and it was time for us."

Tavares skated in and fired an initial shot that Roberto Luongo saved, but the New York captain got the rebound, wrapped around the net and stuffed the puck in before the diving goalie could get back. It sent the sellout Barclays Center crowd into a frenzy and he was quickly mobbed by his teammates after ending the longest home game in Islanders history.

"When I got the rebound, I realized how far he came out," Tavares said. "I had a good step and just tried to, not take my time, but really make sure I had control of the puck. And obviously once you get around the net, make sure it goes in."

The Islanders will next face Tampa Bay. New York last won a playoff series 23 years ago, when it defeated the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Wales Conference semifinals. Jaromir Jagr was on that Penguins team -- and he was disappointed by the Islanders again as a member of the Panthers.

Thomas Greiss finished with 41 saves in the teams' second straight two-overtime game and third in the series to go past regulation. The Islanders won Game 3 here 4-3 in the first extra period, and took Game 5 in Florida 2-1 at 16 minutes of the second OT.

On the tying goal with just under 54 seconds left in the third period, Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy took the puck behind his own empty net, skated all the way down the right side and sent a centering pass from behind the Panthers' goal. Nikolay Kulemin tried to tip it in, but Luongo dived to his left on top of it. But the puck trickled out from underneath him to his right, and Tavares swooped in and put it in for his fourth of the series.

"I came off the bench and saw (Leddy) had the puck on the far side," Tavares said. "I just tried to get lost in coverage and just hope the puck kind of came to me. Lucky enough, it just squirted under Luongo and it doesn't get any easier than that."

Jonathan Huberdeau scored late in the first period for Florida, and Luongo stopped 49 shots. The Panthers have now lost four first-round series since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, with all their losses in this series coming by one goal.

"I thought we were the better team most nights and I don't think the hockey gods were with us at all," Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm giving the Islanders credit. They played a great game, they played a great series ... but I thought we played good hockey."

Both teams had solid chances throughout the game, but were stonewalled by the goalies.

Reilly Smith, held without a point since having four goals and four assists in the first three games, fired a shot that deflected off the crossbar early in the second OT.

Greiss gave up just 13 goals on 234 shots in the series, for a 1.79 goals-against average and a .944 save-percentage.

"He played great," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "You need goaltending, and he came up big for us. There's no doubt when it was 1-0, we didn't have our legs for whatever reason. You saw the passes, you saw the execution in our game. And the pace of our game wasn't where it needed to be and Thomas made some big saves and kept us in it."

The Islanders pressed from the start of the third. Luongo stopped a pair of snap shots by Cal Clutterbuck and a slap shot by Leddy in the first few minutes of the period. Clutterbuck also had a backhand attempt denied by the goalie about 5 minutes in.

The Islanders controlled the play for most of the opening period, but the Panthers took the lead just before the closing minute of the period after New York turned it over in its own zone.

Vincent Trochek sent a pass to Huberdeau, who spun and fired a shot from the high slot while falling down with the puck going over Greiss' blocker with 1:02 remaining. It was Huberdeau's first goal of the series and marked the fifth time Florida scored first.

Clutterbuck was bleeding after getting hit in the face with the puck about 6 minutes into the game and left the game to be treated. He returned for the start of the second period.

Game notes
The Panthers were without C Nick Bjugstad, who lost his footing after being hit by an Islanders player and went face-first into the boards during the first extra period Friday night. Bjugstad did not travel with the team to New York. ... Jagr, who has not scored a goal in his last 37 playoff games, played in his 208th postseason game, tying Wayne Gretzky for 16th place on the all-time list. ...The Islanders improved to 7-0 with a potential clinching Game 6 at home, last accomplishing the feat against Washington in the first round in 1993.


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