Panthers eye comeback vs. Islanders despite trailing 2-0 in Qualifiers

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The Florida Panthers aren’t ready to exit the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, even though they trail the New York Islanders 2-0 in their best-of-5 series.

The Panthers lost 4-2 to the New York Islanders in Game 2 at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday, after losing 2-1 in the series opener Saturday. Game 3 is in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Wednesday (noon ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS, FS-F, MSG+).  

Teams that have lost the first two games are 1-55 winning a best-of-5 NHL series (1.8 percent; 1-39 when last used from 1980-86). The Islanders defeated the Washington Capitals in a 1985 series.

But Mike Hoffman thinks the Panthers are equipped to join the 1985 Islanders in the League record book. 

“Obviously, it’s not easy coming back in a five-game series down 2-0,” said the forward, who had a goal and an assist Tuesday. “But like I’ve said before, there’s a lot of character and talent in this locker room. If there’s a team that’s able to do so, I think it’s us.” 

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm2: Hoffman scores on seeing-eye wrister

That belief partially stems from Hoffman’s faith in goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 30 saves Tuesday after making 26 saves on 28 shots in Game 1. After signing a seven-year contract with Florida on July 1, 2019, Bobrovsky was 23-19-6 with an NHL career-worst 3.23 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage, his second-lowest since 2011-12, in 50 games (48 starts) this season. 

“[Bobrovsky] has been playing well for us, so we know that’s going to be there for us,” Hoffman said. “It’s up to us guys up front to put the puck in the net. I think we’ve got a ton of guys that are able to do so.” 

The signing of Bobrovsky and hiring of coach Joel Quenneville, on April 8, 2019, were meant to give the Panthers their best chance to win a postseason series for the first time since 1996, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final before being swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. 

If Florida is going to maintain a chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Quenneville said the players can only focus on Wednesday. 

“You’ve got to play that game. You don’t look ahead,” Quenneville said. “That’s the bottom line going into tomorrow’s game. Obviously, we should all feel disappointed, and accepting it is not what we’re all about. We want to make sure we’re ready to do something about it tomorrow, but let’s make sure we’re ready to play from [the] start.” 

The Panthers had the lead twice Tuesday, 1-0 after Hoffman scored at 11:16 of the first period and 2-1 after center Aleksander Barkov scored at 7:54 of the second. The Islanders then scored three straight goals, two on the power play. 

Barkov, when sitting at a podium next to defenseman Keith Yandle following the game, said it’s best to keep things in perspective. 

“This is the best time of my life,” Barkov said. “You get to play playoff games. Our whole team is here. We want to win. We want to play our best game. Obviously, our last two games are not our best. We can do a lot better. We’re going to do a lot better in the next game.  

“If I’m disappointed in being here? No. This is a great chance for us. I’ve seen so many teams coming back from 3-0, 2-0, 3-1. It’s not over until …” 

With the Panthers captain struggling to find the right phrase, Yandle contributed an assist. 

“The fat lady sings,” Yandle said.

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