TORONTO — In Games 1 and 2, the Islanders took advantage of the Panthers’ lack of discipline and their sometimes lackadaisical play in their own end.
Florida knew those were habits it couldn’t get away with against a tight-checking, opportunistic New York club.
So, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville pulled the trigger, swapping in five new bodies from Game 2 to Game 3.
“We make the decisions based on results and performance,” Coach Q said. “We made some changes because we weren’t happy with the results.
“We had similar results (making changes) in the regular season so we figured let’s give it a go. Let’s do it. Sometimes it’s hard decisions but I thought bringing in fresh guys is equally important.”
The new dynamics resulted in a 3-2 victory. A couple of the changes were conspicuous.
Defenseman Mike Matheson came out of the lineup after picking up a minor and getting only 11:32 of ice time in Game 1, and then spending six minutes in the box, going a minus-2 and playing just 14:54 in Game 2.
Would it be addition by subtraction? Hard to say when Josh Brown is the replacement.
A big move up front was scratching Frank Vatrano.
Vatrano hadn’t done much in very limited ice time to say the least.
The 40-goal scorer, over the last two seasons combined, hasn’t found his legs. Hockey Now’s George Richards asked Coach Q about these two specific players. The coach is expecting a bounce back.
“It’s an opportunity to get yourself back to where you’re pushing yourself when you’re not playing and come in and help us and hopefully that situation doesn’t occur again,” Q said.
“Both guys were disappointed, not being able to go today, but we believe both these guys can come back and help us.”
So don’t expect to see the Game 3 lineup in Game 4.
The superstitious concept of sticking with an entire lineup that won will be replaced by the reality of the talent available. In the short term, the juggle served its purpose.
Generally speaking, in the D-zone, the Panther re-groups and break-outs seemed more efficient and workmanlike.
Rookie D-man Brady Keeper popped into the line-up for Game 2, played 13 minutes and was juked out of his jock on Jordan Eberle’s first of two goals. He sat out Game 3.
The 22-year-old Riley Stillman, who was bumped by Keeper after playing Game 1, was back in the lineup. (19:01 with a blocked shot).
Up front Lucas Wallmark was playing his first playoff game after a mildly mysterious absence, centering Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman.
“Wally came in for the first time he’s played all playoffs and I thought he had a heck of a game,” Quenneville declared.
“Did a lot of good things, we like his thought process. Between the two of them (Eric Haula) they had some important minutes in the middle of the ice.”
Noel Acciari jumped up to replace Dadonov on the top line, with Barkov moving to the right wing opposite Jonathan Huberdeau.
Bottom six, Dominic Toninato played 7 1/2 minutes in Game 1 and returned after sitting out Game 2. Dryden Hunt also saw a little ice time Wednesday (8:04).
Colton Sceviour was the other subtraction victim. In 11:34 of TOI in Game 2 Sceviour was a minus-1 with three giveaways. He played less than 10 minutes in Game 1. The Panthers survived just fine without his regular PK duties.
Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (25:15, three blocked shots) summed up the substitutes.
“They had a big impact on this game,” he said, “no doubt about it. Love seeing them come in prepared and ready to go.”
Ultimately it’s style of play that makes the difference against New York, regardless of who’s in the line-up.
“Chip it, move it, protect it and be around one another more,” added Quenneville. “Against an Islanders team, that’s the way you’ve gotta play if you want to be successful.”
Game 4 is Friday, expect a hybrid lineup by the Panthers.