John Tavares may have been the difference on the score sheet, but two Islanders defensemen made big plays the set the stage for the captain's heroics.
With a minute remaining in regulation, Nick Leddy made an incredible end-to-end rush up ice to force a shot on net. That allowed Nikolay Kulemin to get a chance in front that Luongo made a spectacular save, but the puck stayed loose, and Tavares cashed it in to tie the game, 1-1.
Then, with just under 10 minutes remaining in double overtime, Marek Zidlicky made a great positional play to regain the puck after Florida had dumped it deep in the Isles' zone. On the ensuing Islanders possession, Tavares scored the winner to send New York to the second round for the first time since 1993.
First, the game doesn't get to overtime without Leddy's clutch, miraculous rush. The Islanders were having trouble getting Tavares on the ice because the Panthers had possession in New York's zone.
What's more, they were within inches of putting the puck into an empty net, but Leddy not only helped make the defensive play to push it wide, but then circled around the net, used his speed to dart up the near side, and force a backhander on Luongo. The Isles got a few wacks and it, then Tavares -- who finally made it on and made a beeline toward the crease -- eventually cashed it in.
Then, in overtime, I was so impressed by Zidlicky. He still had plenty left in his legs midway through the double overtime, having played the least amount of minutes (21:33) of the blue liners. Still, he's 39 years old, so how much he was going to have in the tank that late into his second consecutive double OT game was up for debate.
Zidlicky used that burst he had left to make an incredible positional play along the end boards and neutralize the Panthers' dump in. That led directly to the transition that allowed Quine to feed Kyle Okposo, who sprung Tavares. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Without these two big time plays by the Isles' defensemen, New York is headed to the East Coast of Florida for a Game 7. Instead, they're on their way to the Gulf Coast to open a series with the reigning Eastern Conference champions.