Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Arthur Staple of Newsday,
The Islanders had a chance to seize control of this series. Instead, they seized up.
Light-scoring Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic beat Thomas Greiss with 10:35 to play to give Florida a 2-1 win Wednesday night and even the first-round series at 2, with Game 5 Friday night in Sunrise.
It didn’t feel like a one-goal game. The Islanders came out disjointed in a game that could have given them a 3-1 series lead. They put only five first-period shots on Roberto Luongo, allowing the Panthers to dictate the pace.
Even after Petrovic’s goal the Islanders were stymied, despite a power play with 3:33 to go. They pulled Greiss with just over a minute to play but could not beat Luongo, who made 26 saves.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Kyle Okposo said after the Islanders failed to win back-to-back playoff games for the 12th consecutive chance over the last 14 seasons.
Game highlights are below...
IMO, could have gone either way.
added 10:04pm, longer YT version below.
from Mark Herrmann of Newsday,
The first playoff game at Barclays Center is out of the way. The building came up big and the game was a thriller for Islanders fans. They filled the stairwells with sound on the way out, chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and “Let’s go, Islanders!” — cheers that made the transition from Nassau seamlessly.
And they chanted “Thom-as Hick-ey!” in honor of the defenseman who scored at 12:31 of overtime for a 4-3 win over the Panthers that ended all the questions about what kind of postseason venue Brooklyn might be.
“Incredible,” Hickey said in describing the atmosphere. “I thought our fans were great. We fed off that. I had goose bumps after that anthem. We fed off that and they stuck with us.”
From now on, it is all about the teams and their series, not the arena.
Game highlights are below...
from Andy Kent of the New York Times,
When the puck drops Sunday for the start of the first Stanley Cup playoff game ever played in Brooklyn, the Florida Panthers could feel more at home than the Islanders.
The Panthers’ owners, Vincent Viola and Doug Cifu, are as New York as New Yorkers come. Viola grew up in Brooklyn and went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, within walking distance of the site of what is now Barclays Center. Since buying the Panthers with Cifu in 2013 and becoming the team’s principal owner, Viola has arranged a team dinner at Bamonte’s, the classic Italian restaurant in Williamsburg. That was where Viola celebrated his first communion, his confirmation and his high school graduation.
“Everybody talks, everybody communicates, and it’s just kind of having people appreciate a little bit where Vinnie came from, the old neighborhood,” Cifu said. “He’s from pretty modest means, so he’s a pretty incredible American story. We don’t close the place, either, it’s open to the public, so, yeah, it’s 20-some-odd hockey players and then maybe another 20-odd staff, so we have a big, long table of 50 people and I’m an Italian-American like Vinnie, so it’s a little bit like our family dinners on Sunday.”
from Mark Herrmann of Newsday,
There might not be as many mixed emotions between the two teams, but there sure have been a lot of crossed paths. Islanders Hall of Fame goalie Billy Smith once was the Panthers goalie coach. His former teammate Duane Sutter was the Panthers head coach for parts of two seasons.
Like Torrey’s Islanders, the Panthers earned phenomenal early success. The former reached the Stanley Cup semifinals in their third season, the latter made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their third season—with a roster that included former Islanders Tom Fitzgerald and Mark Fitzpatrick. Torrey, having been ousted by a new Islanders management group in 1992, had something to prove and he (and general manager Bobby Clarke and coach Roger Neilson) assembled a group of players that felt the same way.
“They were gritty, two-way players. It was like a team of Selke candidates,” former Islanders and Panthers public relations director Greg Bouris said, referring to the league’s top award for defensive play. Bouris, who was one of the first people Torrey hired for the Florida team and who now is director of communications for the Major League Baseball Players Association, said, “Previous expansion teams didn’t have a lot of players to choose from, the way the Panthers and Ducks did. There were some real players available in that draft.”
Unlike Torrey’s Islanders, though, Torrey’s Panthers never won four Cups, or even one. A big reason is that in Florida, he never had a young Hall of Fame cornerstone like Denis Potvin. At least not on the ice. Potvin was the Panthers’ TV analyst for their first 16 seasons, did Ottawa Senators games for four years and is back now.
from Aric Dilalla of the Miami Herald,
Attendance is up 33.5 percent from last season, and season ticket renewals are reportedly flowing in at four or five times last year’s rate.
Yet while Jagr continues to pour in goals, the Panthers might be getting just as much help from the men upstairs.
Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, who manage Virtu Financial in New York, bought the team in 2013 for what’s believed to be less than $200 million. In the years since, they have repeatedly proved the value of ownership in professional sports.
“When we got here, people were like, ‘What are these two crazy guys from Wall Street, from New York, (doing) coming down to Florida?’” Cifu said.
“People were suspicious. ‘Are they gonna move the team? Are they carpetbaggers? They’re New Yorkers. They’re Wall Street guys. They’re up to something.’ And we were very consistent from Day One saying we have no agenda other than to win in South Florida. That’s all we wanted to do, believe us.”
Perhaps against the odds, their plan seems to be working.
from George Richards of on Frozen Pond,
Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant seemed to be taken aback a bit by all the media coverage at Monday's morning practice although he wasn't shying away from it.
With the Panthers and the Miami Heat both heading into the postseason, this is a fun time to be a sports fan in South Florida.
"It's a little different, yeah," Gallant said as he glanced at the numerous television cameras and microphones shoved in his general direction.
"I think our team has taken big steps and there's a lot more excitement around and that's a lot of fun. When you talk about two years ago, the start of this season, it's about getting more fans in our building, more media, more publicity for our team. This has been outstanding. The guys have worked hard and created what they have today.
"Hopefully we'll go into the playoffs, relax and have fun and just go about it as another game. Everything we've talked about for the past two years is starting to happen. It has been fun.
"We weren't lying, weren't kidding people about how good our young players are and how good a team we thought we were. This season we played well all season long. I didn't think we'd win the Atlantic when the season started but I thought we would be in a playoff spot."
from Curtis Rush of the Toronto Star,
Dale Tallon is not dressed for the fresh dump of snow in Toronto. The 65-year-old Florida Panthers general manager is wearing loafers with no socks.
But he is not leaving the hotel for the pre-game skate. He’s awaiting the Panthers’ owners, who are flying up for a dinner celebration after the team clinched a playoff spot by virtue of a Blackhawks victory Sunday.
It is Florida’s fifth post-season appearance in franchise history and its first since 2011-12.
The players found out the news just as their plane from Montreal touched down Sunday. Yet there was no loud roar. This Panthers are trying to act like they’ve been there before.
After Monday’s pre-game skate, veteran defenceman Brian Campbell explained that this team is so young that they’re oblivious to pressure.
"I'm happy that things have worked out. And I feel like this team is just beginning to see the potential that we can have. That's exciting for me. Sometimes I wish I was five years younger and had a bit more time. I want to be part of it as long as I can."
-Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers. Much more on Luongo from Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.
from Arash Madani of Sportsnet,
Mitchell remains on injured reserve while he debates whether to return to action after suffering a concussion, the seventh of his career, earlier this season. He will turn 39 on April 23. He has been out of the Panthers lineup since Jan. 18. He hasn’t spoken publicly since.
But that changed Saturday morning when he opened up to Sportsnet in a lengthy interview.
“I don’t know where I’m at,” Mitchell admitted, matter-of-factly. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. When you’re blindsided like me, you reflect on things.”
It’s the dilemma many veteran athletes with a concussion history are facing. With only four games remaining in Florida’s season, including Monday’s at Air Canada Centre in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, time on this season, at least, is running out.
It wasn’t until three weeks ago that Mitchell says his health improved to the point where, “I got my life back.”
Mitchell claims he is now symptom-free, but in his multiple conversations with trainers, doctors, neurologists and other specialists, he has yet to receive a definitive answer as to what may happen if he sustains another blow to the head.
“Unfortunately, no one can give you an answer,” he said.
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