NEW YORK — The last time the New York Islanders hosted the Florida Panthers was April 24, when Islanders captain John Tavares authored the most dramatic hockey moment the Barclays Center has seen by scoring in double overtime to give New York a series-winning victory over the Panthers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Tavares’ dramatic goal will seem a lot further away than a mere 270 days Wednesday night, when the reeling Islanders host the Panthers in the lone game between the teams this season at Barclays Center.
The Islanders fell to the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 in a shootout Saturday. It was the second straight 2-1 loss to a Western Conference also-ran for New York (15-15-8), which lost in overtime to Colorado on Friday.
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The losing streak has stalled the momentum the Islanders created before their “bye week,” which they entered off a 4-1-0 stretch. New York has the fewest points in the Eastern Conference a season after reaching the conference semifinals for the first time since 1993.
“Before the break, everything seemed to be going in for us,” Shane Prince told Newsday following Saturday’s loss. “It’s obviously frustrating to get two points and only score two goals.”
The Islanders won’t be alone Wednesday in feeling as if last spring happened long ago. The Panthers, who reached the playoffs in 2015-16 for only the second time in the last 15 seasons, are two points out of third place in the Atlantic Division. But Florida (18-16-8) is only 7-7-7 since Tom Rowe replaced Gerard Gallant, who was fired following an 11-9-1 start.
The Panthers are coming off a 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday, when goalie Roberto Luongo moved into fifth place on the NHL’s all-time list by earning the 448th victory of his career.
Afterward, Luongo was more concerned with the Panthers’ perilous standing in the Eastern Conference than his place in NHL history.
“I think right now, I just want to get some wins,” Luongo said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs, so that’s what my focus is on, 100 percent. The other things will take care of (themselves) and we’ll reflect on them when it’s all said and done. But as a group, we have one goal in mind, and that’s to play good every night, keep collecting some point and try to get back in this thing.”
Luongo is likely to oppose Thomas Greiss in a rematch of the starting goalies in last spring’s playoff series. Greiss, who became the Islanders’ unquestioned starter when Jaroslav Halak was waived Dec. 30 and eventually assigned to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, stopped 63 of the 66 shots he faced in regulation and overtime of New York’s last two defeats.
The game Wednesday is the first of two straight between the Islanders and Panthers, who oppose each other in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday.