The Panthers were desperately searching for a hero on Wednesday night, and it came in the unlikely form of defenseman Alex Petrovic.
With just two goals in 115 NHL games prior to Wednesday, it was Petrovic who scored the game-winning goal midway through the third as Florida beat the Islanders 2-1 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The victory evened the best-of-7 series at two games each, as the first-round matchup is now a best-of-3 with two games scheduled on Florida ice.
The Panthers and Islanders play Game 5 on Friday at BB&T Center. The NHL announced Wednesday that the start time will be at 8 p.m.
“It was difficult for us, tough goals for us,” said Jaromir Jagr, who assisted on Florida’s first goal. “We had three goals disallowed in the past two games, and it seems every call goes against us. But we kept fighting. This is the playoffs; it’s tough. Every centimeter of the ice is a war. I’m glad we won it and are going home to our rink.”
Florida dominated play and set the pace of the game for much of the night yet, as has been the case throughout the series, was unable to shake the Islanders.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead for the fourth consecutive game yet the Islanders battled back and the score was tied heading into the third.
With 10:35 left in the third, Petrovic whipped a wrister from the top of the right circle and beat Thomas Greiss to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
“We all played a solid game, 20 guys, and there wasn’t any inconsistency there,” said Petrovic, sporting the “Spacey In Space” sweatshirt in the postgame locker room.
“That was a good response from a tough [Game 3]. It’s nice to go home with the series tied.”
The Panthers kept coming at Greiss and the Islanders as the minutes ticked away and held on for a much-needed victory as they head home to South Florida.
A Jonathan Huberdeau penalty with 3:33 left meant the Panthers had to go back on the penalty kill — and they succeeded in ending it thanks in part to some big saves from Roberto Luongo.
Luongo ended the night with 26 saves as the Panthers outshot the Islanders 29-27.
“We had a lot of opportunities and sometimes guys get frustrated, but they stayed with it,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Our message was to play 60 minutes and compete and play real hard. It didn’t matter what the score was; don’t change the game plan.”
Florida dictated play for the first 35 minutes Wednesday yet didn’t break through until Teddy Purcell drilled a backhanded, behind-the-net pass from Jagr on a power play with 4:42 left in the second period.
The goal was Purcell’s second of the series and first since giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead early in Game 1. Jagr’s assist marked his first point of the series.
“I was just glad I could help,” Jagr said.
New York started coming on after the goal and went on its second 5-on-3 power play late in the second as Sasha Barkov (slashing) and Dmitry Kulikov (tripping) sat in the box together.
The Islanders scored on a 5-on-3 in Game 3 and almost did again as John Tavares beat Luongo just as Barkov charged out of the box with 15.3 seconds remaining in the period.
Florida appeared to take a 1-0 lead a little earlier, but it was determined Huberdeau interfered with Greiss as he put the puck past him.
Huberdeau collided with Greiss — and briefly left the ice to head to the training room with what looked like a lower-leg injury — and officials on the ice ruled Huberdeau interfered with the goalie.
After a review on the play was initiated, the call on the ice was held up. Gallant challenged the video review and ended up losing it.
The review took almost 10 minutes to complete, allowing Huberdeau to come back onto the ice and not miss a shift. It did cost the Panthers their timeout and the ability to challenge any other plays on the ice for the remainder of the night.
“I still don’t understand it, they tried to explain the rule to me, but it looked like a good goal to me,” Gallant said. “The puck was in the net and they didn’t really make a call.”