The New York Islanders advanced to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 5-1 win against the Florida Panthers in Game 4 of the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Friday.
Anthony Beauvillier scored two goals, and Semyon Varlamov made 24 saves for the Islanders, the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I liked our focus today,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “There was only one end goal, [it] was to be the better team today and win a hockey game. There was no ‘me’ in anybody, it was all ‘we.’ Everybody was, as I use the term, pulling on the rope. I didn’t have any passengers, and our bench would not allow anybody to be a passenger, which is a great sign.”
Mike Hoffman scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 33 saves for the Panthers, the No. 10 seed. It was their first postseason appearance since 2016, when they lost to the Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round.
“Right now, it [stinks]. It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating,” Bobrovsky said. “But I thought guys worked hard, guys gave everything they have, we fight, we compete, and it is what it is.
“We got the good experience and we have to learn from it. We still have a great group of guys. It’s a great locker room. We’re close to each other. We lose as a team, we win as a team. It’s disappointing, but we’re going to be better next season.”
New York will play the winner of the game Sunday between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals in the first round in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city. The Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0), Philadelphia Flyers (2-0-0), Capitals (0-1-1) and Bruins (0-2-0) are playing in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers to determine the top four seeds in the East.
“We know that we just punched our ticket to the dance and it’s kind of the start now,” said Islanders center Mathew Barzal, who had a goal and an assist. “The intensity’s only going to ramp up, and I think this group’s going to be ready to go. We get a few good practices in and just await who we’re playing here.”
Florida has a 12.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Monday.
Beauvillier gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 11:32 of the first period when his backhand shot from a sharp angle went between Bobrovsky’s skates.
“At the end of the day it’s not about saves, it’s all about wins,” Bobrovsky said. “Today on the first goal, I let guys down. I could do a better job on the first goal.”
Beauvillier made it 2-0 when he one-timed Barzal’s pass on a 2-on-1 at 15:10 of the first.
The line of Beauvillier, center Brock Nelson (one goal, one assist) and forward Josh Bailey (two assists) combined for six points.
“Obviously, [Beauvillier] has been shining here for us,” Nelson said. “Playing with those two, it’s definitely nice and obviously you want to help the team offensively.”
Hoffman scored his third goal of the series at 18:41 with a one-timer off Jonathan Huberdeau‘s cross-ice pass on the power play to make it 2-1.
Florida was 1-for-5 with the man-advantage.
“Our power play, we relied on it a lot in this series to generate offense,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our offensive-zone possession obviously wasn’t great, but at least we had time today. But we didn’t get shots through or second opportunities because there was not a lot of stuff hanging around the net.
“Commend [the Islanders] on how they played. That team game, you’ve got all four lines going. That’s the right way to play.”
Nelson gave New York a 3-1 lead with a power-play goal at 8:01 of the second after the Panthers had too many men on the ice.
Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock helped preserve the two-goal lead with a diving play to prevent Aleksander Barkov from scoring into an open net at 8:29 of the second.
“To me, it was one of those defining moments,” Trotz said. ” … That was a critical moment, a great play by [Pulock] to save a goal. For sure, that was a 4-by-6 open net, and he was able to get his stick in there. Those are the plays, the commitment, that extra effort, that wins you those inches. We had a lot of that today.”
Barzal scored on a breakaway at 10:34 of the third period to make it 4-1, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored an empty-net goal at 17:17 for the 5-1 final.
“It’s tough right now,” Barkov said. “Obviously, we didn’t get the result we wanted. We wanted to go further. We wanted to battle for the Cup. Now this one is over, can’t really think about anything else.
“So it was really good for us because we haven’t been in the playoffs for a while. It was a good experience for us, but we should not be happy with this result. We want to be a lot better.”