SUNRISE, Fla. — Whenever the Islanders got behind, they fought their way out of trouble. When they finally got the lead, they didn’t give it back.
John Tavares had a goal and two assists, including one that set up Kyle Okposo’s go-ahead goal early in the third period, and the Islanders beat the Florida Panthers, 5-4, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Thursday night.
Thomas Greiss survived a shaky startand made 42 saves in his first playoff start — the last of them coming off the stick of Jaromir Jagr after Florida pulled its goalie for an extra attacker in the final moments.
“It wasn’t our best game but we certainly found a way,” said Tavares, who was shaken up after getting hit in the leg with a puck, but insisted postgame that he was fine. “We have to build on the win and know we can be better.”
Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen and Ryan Strome added goals for the Isles.
John Tavares (r.) celebrates his goal with teammate Frans Nielsen as the Islanders edge the Panthers 5-4 in Game 1 of the first round of their Stanley Cup playoffs series.
“You knew it was going to be a battle, they would come out hard, and they did,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t quit and were resilient. We got some timely goals tonight.”
Reilly Smith had two goals, Jussi Jokinen had a goal and two assists and Teddy Purcell also scored for the Panthers. Roberto Luongo stopped 21 of 26 shots.
“Made some big mistakes, but we did a lot of good things in the game,” Florida defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We’ve got to clean some stuff up. It’s obvious things that we see. That’s the frustrating part. I felt we had our game going tonight.”
Florida took the lead on three occasions in the first two periods, and the Islanders came back and tied it every time.
Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss stops Panthers’ Calvin de Haan.
The Panthers — somewhat predictably, since the franchise hadn’t played a postseason game in four years — came out flying, getting on the board just 1:55 into the game when Purcell tapped a perfect pass from Jiri Hudler into a wide-open net. Later in the first, Jokinen deflected Campbell’s shot from the high slot for Florida’s second goal, and Smith got his first of the night 1:31 into the second period. And after each one, the Islanders seemed most unfazed.
“We weren’t expecting this to be a short series anyway,” Smith said.
Nelson and Nielsen had tying goals in the first period and Tavares sent the teams into the second intermission tied at 3-3 when he took a pass from Okposo and scored his sixth career postseason goal.
Tavares and Okposo worked their magic again early in the third, Tavares stealing the puck away from Campbell to set up Okposo to stay.