Fans file into BB&T Center before Panthers' playoff game against Islanders
Roberto Luongo’s first start in the playoffs in three years didn’t go as he hoped it would Thursday night.
Luongo, making his postseason debut with the Panthers, watched the Islanders cruise through the Florida defense as John Tavares and Kyle Okposo helped lead the Islanders to a 5-4 win in the opening round of their playoff series at BB&T Center.
The Panthers will get a chance to even the series Friday.
“I thought we played a great offensive game, created a lot of chances but we gave them too much, too many opportunities and Grade-A chances cost us the game,’’ said coach Gerard Gallant said.
Luongo was said to be getting an IV following the game as he prepares to start Friday.
Afterward, he said he felt good about Florida’s overall game as long as they clean some things up.
“I think we played well in general, carried much of the play,” Luongo said. “We had some breakdowns, but when that happens, I have to come up with some saves. I didn’t do that enough. We just have to come back with the same attitude and I have to be better and make some saves.”
Luongo has now lost his past seven postseason starts dating to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals although it’s tough to blame him — Gallant and his teammates refused to — for what happened Thursday.
“I thought our defensive game was bad and some of the shots were great,” Gallant said. “I’m not going to blame [Luongo]. He’s been our key guy all year long.”
On three separate occasions Thursday, the Panthers took a lead only to see the Islanders charge through their defense and tie it.
All that stopped in the third as Okposo and Ryan Strome took advantage of either a Florida turnover or failure to clear a rebound as the Islanders took a two-goal lead they would not surrender.
“We turned over the puck, gave them scoring chances,” Gallant said. “Their skilled players got them, and buried them. They took advantage of our turnovers and put it in the back of the net.”
The Panthers, down 5-3, made it a one-goal game when Reilly Smith scored his second of the night less than a minute after Strome scored for New York.
“There were a lot of positives, but a couple mental lapses cost us the game and that’s frustrating,’’ Smith said. “We weren’t expecting this to be a short series anyway.’’
Florida, despite outshooting the Islanders 46-26, never found the equalizer although Jaromir Jagr — who lost yet another front part of his dental work after going into the boards in the first — had a terrific backhanded chance stopped by Thomas Greiss with 30 seconds left.
“We just have to forget about it, tomorrow is a different game,’’ Jagr said. “We made some mistakes but we had a lot of offensive chances. ... We have to somehow learn from that a little bit, get some rest and fight again.’’
Florida led 1-0 less than two minutes in when Teddy Purcell scored off a nice play from Jiri Hudler and Dmitry Kulikov.
The Islanders didn’t wait too long to forge their first tie as Brock Nelson charged through the Florida defense and beat Luongo on New York’s third shot on goal of the night.
Jussi Jokinen gave Florida its second lead by knocking a Brian Campbell shot past Greiss only to see Frans Nielsen beat Luongo after Tavares waltzed through the Panthers defense without breaking a sweat.
The Panthers made it a 3-2 lead 91 seconds into the second when Smith hammered a rebound off the backboards into the net.