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Razor-sharp Luongo and Smith lead Panthers to 3-1 win over Islanders to even series

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo bounces back from Game 1 performance and Reilly Smith scores again to lift Panthers to 3-1 victory over New York Islanders in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Somewhere the vacationing Boston Bruins must be wondering how in the world did their front-office folks let Reilly Smith get away to the Florida Panthers last summer for Jimmy Hayes.

Sure, the Bruins received salary-cap relief by throwing in a concussed Marc Savard's $4 million, but they never could've anticipated the player Smith has become.

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A night after notching two goals and an assist in the Panthers' Game 1 loss to the New York Islanders, Smith took over Game 2 with another goal and an assist to lift Florida to a 3-1 victory in a chippy affair at a rocking BB&T Center.

That's all the support 37-year-old goalie Roberto Luongo would need as he silenced the Twitter critics who called for backup goalie Al Montoya to start because of the rare back-to-back playoff set and his shaky play Thursday in which he gave up five goals for just the second time all season.

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"The last two years I had this guy in nets and he's one of the best goalies in the league in my opinion," said Panthers coach Gerald Gallant. "We knew he was going to bounce back tonight. I don't think he was bad last night. I just think they made some great shots. Tonight he was outstanding and that's what we expected."

Panthers fans saluted Luongo all game with his trademark, "Louuuuuu," as he responded with 41 saves to snap a seven-game losing streak in the playoffs dating back to June 10, 2011 when he posted a 1-0 shutout over the Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, in which his Vancouver Canucks would lose in seven.

"It was a complete team effort, a typical playoff game, low scoring, grinding down and we found a way to win," Luongo said. "It's 1-1. It's important to play well as much as you can every game. It's a long series, so we'll enjoy tonight but it's back to work tomorrow.

"They all feel good. It's playoffs, man. It's what it's all about."

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The Panthers led 2-0 after two, but had blown similar leads twice this season to the Islanders, and they had to sweat this one out as well. Just as Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss skated to the bench for an extra attacker with 3:37 left in regulation, John Tavares nudged a rebound past Luongo's short side.

But defenseman Dmitry Kulikov sealed the deal with a 180-foot flick into the empty net with 9.3 ticks left. Down came the rats as the 18,373 fans celebrated.

The teams head to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Wednesday respectively. The two extra days off are due to boxing events being held at Barclays Center, but not long after actor Kevin Spacey narrated a pregame video pep talk centered around waging war, the teams had more scrums than an Australian football game.

With less than two minutes left in the second period Isles' Casey Cizikas sucker-punched Aaron Ekblad in the stomach to ignite a melee.

Now it's a playoff series, bad blood and all.

Just like Thursday, the Panthers struck early, but this time they didn't blow three leads as they tightened the screws defensively. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson zipped the puck to Jonathan Huberdeau who dropped it to Nick Bjugstad for a backhander that Greiss made the initial stop on.

However, the torrid Mr. Smith pounced on a juicy rebound for his third playoff goal in two games at 4:32 for a 1-0 lead.

"It seems like the puck is following me around right now, and I have to give a lot of credit to my linemates," said Smith, who had a career-high 25 goals this season. "It's awesome to be able to help the team on this stage."

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The Panthers top line of Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr were blanked again, but buzzed Greiss in the closing seconds of the first period. He was helped by forward Brock Nelson, who blocked Barkov's sure goal to keep it 1-zip after one.

The Panthers made it 2-0 at 6:17 of the second when Kulikov, who joined the rush all game, kept the puck in for Smith, who from behind the net backhanded a centering pass to Bjugstad for a slot-shot for his first career playoff goal.

"We weren't too worried the way we played last night," Bjugstad said. "We created chances, but there was some defensive lapses on our part. We stayed positive and it showed tonight.

"We tightened it up a little bit defensively. Louie played a great game."

The so-called second line of Bjugstad, Smith and Jussi Jokinen have combined for five of the team's seven goals and six assists in the first two games.

Luongo stymied Ryan Strome's point-blank slapper with a sensational blocker save at 10:50 to maintain a two-goal cushion after two.

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