ELMONT, N.Y. — The Florida Panthers knew Thursday’s game against the New York Islanders would be a good test to their new physical style of play and they passed, winning their season opener 3-1.
The Islanders have a reputation for being a team that slows the game down and that was certainly the case Thursday.
The first period was a slew of physical puck battles and defensive play that resulted in a scoreless game through 20 minutes.
Florida brought in Matthew Tkachuk during the offseason in an effort to become more effective in slower games and was a difference maker in his Panthers’ debut.
Less than 30 seconds into the game, Tkachuk won a netfront battle for a rebound and shot the puck through his legs to give the Panthers their first good scoring chance of the game. Ilya Sorokin came up with the save.
Tkachuk versus Sorokin became a cat-and-mouse game through the first two periods of play, with Tkachuk using his strength and skill to make scoring chances happen out of thin air and Sorokin pulling saves out of his hat.
Florida had 24 scoring chances to New York’s 16 and 13 high-danger chances to the Islanders’ four when the two-time All-Star was on the ice.
It was not Tkachuk who broke the ice for the Panthers, however.
Eetu Luostarinen tipped a Radko Gudas shot past Sorokin with 7:15 to go in the second period to put Florida ahead.
Sergei Bobrovsky was rock solid through two periods of play as well, stopping all 23 shots he faced in the first two periods.
Bobrovsky ended his night with 31 saves.
”Life is better when you win,” Bobrovsky said with a grin postgame.
Florida went into the third up 1-0 but things quickly shifted New York’s was as Noah Dobson tied the score with a power play goal from above the face-off circle 3:33 in.
The game did not stay tied for long.
Patrick Hornqvist picked up his own rebound and scored on a wraparound just 30 seconds later to put Florida back up 2-1.
”If we play like this on a regular basis, we’re going to be hard to play against all year,” Hornqvist told Bally Sports after the game. “Give credit to the Islanders because they are hard to play against but … we ground them down and that says a lot about this team. It’s only the first game, but we started it out the right way.’’
Tkachuk did cash in after all his hard work, scoring the insurance goal with 1:15 left after getting a loose puck at the top of the defensive zone and depositing into an empty net.
That goal came on his 16th shot attempt of his Florida debut.
The Panthers had other opportunities to extend their lead following Hornqvist’s marker.
Anders Lee took a roughing penalty 4:59 into the period to give the Panthers an opportunity to extend their lead on the man advantage. But it almost swung things the other way.
Bobrovsky got a little too aggressive on a shorthanded breakaway opportunity by Casey Cizikas and was caught way outside of his crease.
Cizikas deflected the puck around Bobrovsky and back up to himself with a wide-open net in front of him but he missed the open net.
Florida failed to score on that opportunity and ended the night 0-for-5 on the power play.
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Matthew Tkachuk, Florida (Goal, 16 shot attempts)
2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida (31 saves)
3. Patric Hornqvist, Florida (Game-winning goal)
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO SABRES
- When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
- Where: KeyBank Center; Buffalo, N.Y.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM HD-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Buffalo leads 52-46-5, 4 ties