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Panthers win first playoff game in four years, even up series with Isles

Roberto Luongo, Aleksander Barkov

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo (1) and center Aleksander Barkov (16) celebrate after they defeated the Montreal Canadiens in an NHL hockey game, Saturday, April 2, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


The last time Florida won a playoff game, Jose Theodore was in net and Kris Versteeg scored the game-winning goal.

So yeah, this one was a long time coming.

Florida defeated the Islanders 3-1 in Game 2 of their opening-round series on Friday night, the first time the Panthers have won a postseason tilt since beating New Jersey in the opening round four years ago.

Back then, it was Theodore and Versteeg doing the business.

Tonight? Roberto Luongo and Reilly Smith.

The veteran goalie won his first-ever playoff game for the Cats -- the franchise that drafted him, then re-acquired him three years ago -- with an outstanding effort, stopping 41 of 42 shots faced. It was a great bounce-back from Bobby Lu who, in Game 1, faced some criticism after surrendering five goals on just 26 shots.

Not surprisingly, Luongo was named the first star on Friday.

Smith, meanwhile, continued his terrific play with another two-point effort, scoring Florida’s first goal and setting up Nick Bjugstad’s game-winner. The 25-year-old now has five points through two games, continuing on from the fine regular season form that saw him score a career-high 25 goals and 50 points.

For the Islanders, John Tavares continued his great play to start this series by scoring his team’s only goal. That puts Tavares on four points through the first two games.

In goal, Thomas Greiss stopped 28 of 30 shots faced.

From Florida’s perspective, tonight’s game was a virtual must-win after dropping Game 1 at home -- so, as far as the Cats are concerned, mission accomplished. That should provide some good momentum heading into Brooklyn for Game 3.

For the Islanders -- well, it’s a bit more tricky. They got what they wanted in the opener, achieving the split in Sunrise. But given how badly they out-shot the Panthers tonight, they’re probably leaving Florida wondering if they could’ve gotten more -- like, say, a 2-0 series lead.