SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Roberto Luongo bounced back. So did the Florida Panthers.
Luongo made 41 saves for his first playoff win in five years, and the Panthers evened their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series by beating the New York Islanders 3-1 on Friday night.
Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad each had a goal and an assist for Florida, which salvaged a split in the back-to-back that opened the series at a game apiece.
“It was important, obviously, to get one at home,” Luongo said. “Complete team effort tonight. Typical playoff game, low-scoring, grinding down and we found a way to win.”
Dmitry Kulikov added an empty-netter with 9.3 seconds left to clinch it for the Panthers.
John Tavares scored a goal for his sixth consecutive game going back to the regular season, denying Luongo the shutout with 3:33 left. Thomas Greiss stopped 28 shots for the Islanders.
The series now shifts to Brooklyn, for Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 on Wednesday.
“It was pretty intense out there, a tighter game,” Tavares said. “I thought we controlled more of the game today. Luongo made some big saves. We just ran out of time.”
It was Luongo’s first playoff win since Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. He had lost his last seven postseason starts _ giving up at least three goals in every one _ and had been part of eight consecutive playoff losses in all, counting a relief stint in 2013. And all that came after he was victimized by Florida defensive breakdowns in Game 1 on Thursday night, which played a big role in him giving up five goals on 26 New York shots.
What a difference a day made. The Islanders couldn’t even cash in when Luongo was forced to play for about a minute with no stick, after it got knocked from his reach.
“Lu’s big for us every night,” Bjugstad said. “Last night, I thought those were good goals by them. Lu’s so focused every day, he works so hard in practice, it pays off for him on the ice. So no, we weren’t really surprised. He’s a veteran. He’s been in these types of situations. Definitely makes us comfortable when he’s in the net.”
And after 456 appearances for Florida, Luongo finally has a postseason win for the team. Some of his saves were spectacular, like when he denied the Islanders’ Ryan Strome from point-blank range in the slot midway through the second period, and another when he managed to deflect a shot off the stick of Cal Clutterbuck _ who was getting hauled down by Florida’s Alex Petrovic early in the third.
Petrovic was sent to the box and Luongo stopped three more shots on the ensuing power play, including a pair from Tavares _ who had a three-point night in Game 1.
“I thought we should have come out of here 1-and-1,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “They probably deserved the first night, but tonight we played the way Islander hockey was supposed to be played. Their goalie made some big saves when he had to.”
Luongo got all the scoring help he needed early.
Smith scored at 4:32 of the first, getting his third goal of the series, and Bjugstad’s first career playoff goal came early in the second period when he one-timed a pass from Smith past Greiss for a 2-0 lead.
NOTES: Luongo is now the fourth goaltender in Florida history to win a playoff game for the Panthers, joining John Vanbiesbrouck (13), Jose Theodore (two) and Scott Clemmensen (one). — Panthers F Jaromir Jagr hasn’t scored a goal in any of his last 33 playoff games, a somewhat surprising stat given how prolific he is even at 44. — The Panthers improved to 12-4-2 this season in home games that followed a home loss. — Kyle Okposo, who had the go-ahead goal for the Islanders in Game 1, turns 28 on Saturday. — Greiss fell to 2-2-1 all-time against Florida. — Attendance rose from Game 1 to Game 2, Friday’s matchup drawing 18,373 _ but not a sellout.
(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)