Islanders star John Tavares shines in 5-4 victory over Pantheres in Game 1

The Panthers knew coming into this best-of-seven first-round playoff series that one critical key to victory was for 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov to contain Islanders top-line center John Tavares.

In the easier-said-then-done category, Tavares showed why he's a perennial All-Star as he chipped in a goal and two assists to hand the Panthers a 5-4 loss Thursday night at the BB&T Center in Game 1.

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The Panthers also felt they would have a huge advantage in net because of Roberto Luongo's vast playoff experience compared to his Islanders counterpart, Thomas Greiss, who was starting his first postseason game.

That didn't mean much either as Luongo gave up five goals on 26 shots, making coach Gerard Gallant's decision on whether or not to come back with Al Montoya Friday night an interesting one.

"I thought our defensive game was bad,'' Gallant said. "Some of the pucks were great shots, so I'm not going to blame Louie. Louie has been our key guy all yaer along.''

Gallant said after the game that his decision was made, but he wouldn't reveal his starting goalie for Game 2.

"I thought we played a great game offensively, we created a lot of chances and got four goals, but we gave them too much,'' Gallant added. "They got too many opportunities and Grade A chances and it cost us a hockey game."

While Florida's top-line trio of Barkov, Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau buzzed around Greiss all game, they came up empty, including with 30 seconds left and Florida's net empty. Barkov set up Jagr for a golden scoring chance but Greiss deflected it away for his 42nd save.

"We had a lot of opportunities to score, it didn't happen,'' said Jagr, who lost another front tooth when he lost an edge on his skate and crashed face-first into the boards. "Forget about it, tomorrow's a dfferent game. We made a lot of mistakes.

"There's no question about it that [Tavares] is a heckuva player. Sometimes you can't do anything about it. Somebody's too good.''

Tied at 3-3 entering the third period, Tavares stripped Panthers usually reliable defenseman Brian Campbell deep in New York's offensive zone. Tavares dropped it for Kyle Okposo, who wristed it past Luongo's stick side at 2:33.

"We made some big mistakes but we also did a lot of good things in the game,'' Campbell said. "We just have to clean some stuff up. … Every bounce that went their way they took advantage of.''

That was the third blown lead by the Panthers, who were 37-2-3 when scoring three or more goals during the regular season.

Then at 6:01 Alan Quine skated around Panthers defenseman Jakub Kindl for a shot that caromed to Ryan Strome for a two-goal cushion. Back came the Panthers as 55 seconds later Reilly Smith potted his second goal of the wide-open affair with a rising wrister.

"A couple of mental lapses seemed to cost us the game,'' said Smith, who had a game-high eight shots on net. "It's frustrating, but we weren't expecting this to be a short series anyway.

"Luckily we play tomorrow, so we don't have to think about it too much. There were a lot of chances we could have capitalized on to really change that game."

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In a sea of red because of the Atlantic Division title t-shirts giveway and glow-sticks, the Panthers drew first blood at 1:55 of the first period when defenseman Dmitry Kulikov's two-line pass up ice found Jiri Hudler to set up a 2-on-1 rush.

Hudler patiently waited to freeze Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan before crossing a blade-to-blade pass to Purcell, who swatted it past Greiss, who's filling in for injured starter Jaroslav Halak (groin) all series.

However, the Islanders tied it 1-1 at 6:39 wh en defenseman Johnny Boychuk outbattled Hudler for the puck along the sideboards in the neutral zone and got it to Strome, who fed a streaking Brock Nelson for a slot-shot past Luongo, who was playing in his 65th postseason game.

The teams then exchanged power-play goals. After the Panthers' top-line had two consecutive dominant shifts with several prime scoring chances, the Islanders decided the only way to contain them was to start a mini-brawl. So Cal Clutterbuck jumped Huberdeau for a double-minor versus a roughing for Huberdeau.

Just 47 seconds later, Jussi Jokinen (goal and 2 assists) deftly re-directed Campbell's straightaway shot for a 2-1 lead. The wide-open, yet hard-hitting ping-pong match continued.

"It's just playoff hockey so it's nothing surprising,'' said Jagr, who had six shots on goal. "Nothing I didn't see before.''

After Erik Gudbranson went off for hooking, Tavares set up Frans Nielsen for a point-blank flicker that Luongo couldn't handle. The teams skated off to a 2-2 tie after one with the Panthers outshooting New York 16-11.

Just 1:31 into the second period, the second-line trio clicked again as Nick Bjugstad won the draw, got it to Jokinen, who passed back to defenseman Alex Petrovic. His slapper rattled off the end boards right to Smith, who roofed it in for a 3-2 lead.

However, with just 21.8 seconds left in the period, Okposo slid a pass across the goal-mouth past Barkov to Tavares, for a one-timer and 3-3 tie after two that stole Florida's momentum. ...

The Panthers had seven players in the lineup who were playing their first NHL playoff game, including Huberdeau, Barkov, Bjugstad, Rocco Grimaldi, Garrett Wilson, Petrovic and Aaron Ekblad.

Barkov was 14-5 in the faceoff circle, but Grimaldi was only 1-for-10.

Another Ekblad first

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad has been crossing off milestones since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Panthers in 2014.

After winning Rookie of the Year and playing in two All-Star games in his first two seasons, next on the 20-year-old's checklist was to play in his first NHL playoff game.

"Every night you kind of go to bed thinking about it, you wake up in the morning and think about it, you come to the rink and think about it,'' Ekblad said after morning skate. "It's really exciting and an anxious time for everyone and we obviously don't want to grip our sticks too tight and kind of be relaxed and be ready and prepared."

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