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Islanders vs. Panthers Game 3 Preview: The turning point, sometimes

Brooklyn trims its playoff beard to look a little hipper for company.

Try to keep Smith off the ice, is what you're saying.
Try to keep Smith off the ice, is what you're saying.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"The most important game of the series," they sometimes say. "Whoever wins this is in the driver's seat."

And then they'll say that about Game 4 ("It's either tied 2-2 or someone is in the driver's seat...")'s okay, it's just how we make sense of things in a complex world where we stew over the same score for 24-72 hours until something changes.

Regardless, the New York Islanders introduce playoff hockey to Brooklyn for Game 3 vs. the Florida Panthers Sunday night, with the series tied 1-1, and the Isles needing, or wanting, or whatever your playoff narrative verb of choice, to win to hold the "home advantage" they stole by winning Game 1.

That's not exactly how it works -- and of course even with a win tonight, they'd need to win again in Game 4 to keep that whole concept in place, plus then...oh whatever. Basically this is a great opportunity to finish three games in four nights on a high note, enjoy the two days before the next one with a smile, and position themselves to put all the pressure on the visitors.

It's still so early in this series.

How to Watch: Islanders vs. Panthers, 8 p.m. EDT

TV: MSG+, NBC Sports, Sportsnet, TVA2, Fox Sports Florida
Radio (NY area): Sports Radio 66/101.9FM WFAN
Web stream: NBC Sports

Lineup Moves

The Islanders will start Thomas Greiss in goal again, keep the same six defensemen, and possibly make a change up front, according to the minimalism from Jack Capuano at the morning skate.

Any forward changes could be due to injury or illness, or because someone like Josh Bailey has been playing like dirt.

The Panthers sent Rocco Grimaldi to the AHL, and he definitely looked overmatched in the first two games. Now the Isles won't have the opportunity to match against him with the final change at home. Sounds like Derek MacKenzie will bump up to his spot from the fourth line, while Greg McKegg will slot into MacKenzie's spot on the fourth.

Arena Significance

The Islanders were 80-41 all-time in playoff games at Nassau Coliseum. In their first year in Brooklyn, after some early struggles at Barclays Center, they finished 25-11-5. Many have said it's loud and uncomfortable for visitors. We'll see if the Isles can keep it that way. With a Sunday game and pre-game festival, the arena promotions crew is going all in.

A question for every arena come spring playoff time is the quality of the ice, and that one persists for Barclays in its first season maintaining an ice rink. It was bad early. It's been bad late in the season, with the players openly criticizing it. They've brought in the NHL guru to address it. One of the vocal critics, Kyle Okposo, has said it's been better.

Guess we'll see tonight. In any case, the ice in Florida was not particularly conducive to smooth puck transit late in the periods in Games 1 and 2, so it's not like conditions will be too unfamiliar.

Hot or Not?

John Tavares (2-2-4) and Reilly Smith (3-2-5) have been on fire for their respective teams. The Isles were lucky to keep Jaromir Jagr off the scoresheet and Aleksander Barkov to just one assist, though they played them better (and Jagr looked more taxed on the second half of a back-to-back) in Game 2.

For the Isles, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome have the only goals outside of the first line. Bailey and Nikolay Kulemin have struggled mightily. As a team the Isles hope to get more offensive participation from their defense, which has been predictably led by Nick Leddy (two assists).

The Vibe

How Panthers coach Gerard Gallant sees things:

"I think the first two games have been close games and good battles. I think you see two hockey teams that are quite evenly matched. There’s not much give or take between both teams and, so far, the series has been real good."

The Bottom Line

The winner of tonight's game has a 2-1 series lead after four days. That's it. Soooo much more to come afterward, and it will be spread out with just two games over the following five days.