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Luongo stars, Panthers win 3-1, tie series 1-1; plus Dolphins' brutal schedule, who are Heat and Panthers' MVPs? (last day to vote!), Heat-Hornets, history of home playoffs in Miami & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

Jackierobinson1) It is SATURDAY, APRIL 16. Jackie Robinson (pictured) made his historic, barrier-breaking MLB debut yesterday in 1947. 2) 73 & 60: the NBA's biggest regular-season night. I guess Golden State's record 73rd win was bigger historically. (You did; see poll result below). But Kobe Bryant popping for 60 in his grand finale hit all the emotional chords. What a night for the NBA. Top that, playoffs! 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Heat collapse but get 3rd seed and Charlotte, Golden State and Kobe on NBA's huge closing night, your Arison/Cuba verdict & more. 4) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, InstagramVinePeriscope and now Snapchat, too.

QUICK THOUGHT ON DOLPHINS' 2016 SCHEDULE? UH OH: The Fins' '16 schedule begins in a way -- at Seattle, at New England -- that makes you think the NFL put Marquis de Sade in charge of the thing and that Marquis doesn't like Adam Gase very much. No team is likelier than Miami for an 0-2 start. I rattled through the schedule game by game, factoring opponent and home/away, and came up with a 6-10 record, with more of what look like sure losses than certain wins. ESPN's guesstimate was 7-9. Numerically Miami has the third-toughest schedule, based on opponents' combined .535 winning percentage last year. Everybody is chattering about the first two games but the last five also seems a brutal stretch: at Baltimore, vs. Arizona, at N.Y. Jets, at Buffalo and vs. New England. Bottom line: Maybe the Dolphins will surprise us. It'd be about time. But, based on a fast digestion of the new schedule, it does not appear an end to the playoff drought is at hand.

The Last 3: My three most recent columns, ICYMI or thought them so wonderful they deserved another look: Luongo Saves Day, And Maybe Season, off last night's  necessary win. Now We See About the Panthers, off gthe opening loss. Rats & Cats, 20 Years On, as the 2016 Panthers try to reprise the magic of '96. (I don't think I've been writing enough Panthers!)

G2: LUONGO REDEEMS HIMSELF, LEADS 3-1 WIN AS PANTHERS KNOT SERIES 1-1: G2: Roberto Luongo saved 41 of 42 Islanders shots last night in a 3-1 Florida victory tying the playoff series 1-1 as its heads to Brooklyn for the next two games. Reilly Smith scored his third goal in two nights, Nick Bjugstad scored the game-winner, and Dmitry Kulikov had a last-second empty netter. But the story was Luongo's excellence one night after he'd set a club record for most goals allowed in a playoff game. Click on Luongo Saves Day, And Maybe Season for my column off the game centered on Luongo. G1: Florida led 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, giving up the equalizer each time, in an eventual 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 1 of their first-round NHL playoff series. Goalkeeper Roberto Luongo was not great but his defense let him down, and now all of the pressure heaps onto the favored Panthersislanders NhlplayoffsPanthers entering Game 2 Friday. I thought Florida in many ways was the better team, especially offensively, but Scoreboard Don't Lie. Click on Now We See About the Panthers for my column from the game. ..... Original post: The Florida Panthers have spent much of their 22-season franchise history playing the underdog. Even in reaching the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals they were the lovable little team nobody expected to get that far. Well, they are the little team no more. At least not in the first round vs. the New York Islanders. The Cats are the clear favorites in this series. They are the division champions with the potent, deep scoring, with the veteran goaltender, and with the perfect blend of savvy experience embodied by Jaromir Jagr still going strong at 44 and by a counterbalance of exciting, blossoming youth. Florida can't even play the "we're due" card this time in search of its first playoff series advance since '96 ... because the Isles haven't won a playoff series since '93! Bigger tests are immediately ahead, such as Tampa Bay (likely) in the next round, but I'd be surprised if the Islanders presented much of a problem. My pick: Panthers in 5 games.

ON HEAT-CHARLOTTE HORNETS: MIAMI GOT LUCKY. OR DID IT?: [Game 1 here Sunday] The Heat ended the NBA regular season with a second half in Boston that made you think Erik Spoelstra's halftime pep talk involved handing out Melatonin to his players as piped-in Yanni music softly played. Yet despite the collapse Miami still somehow managed
 Nbaplayoffsto secure the No. 3 seed, Heathornetswhich brings in Charlotte as the first-round foe and also avoids LeBron and Cleveland until a possible conference-finals meeting. The general narrative is that Miami lucked out ... but, are you sure about that? Miami and Charlotte were 2-2 during the season, the Hornets scoring seven more total points. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will be a challenge, and it's a series where Chris Bosh's absence could be conspicuous after so many weeks of Miami seemingly not missing him. Charlotte has had the third-best record in the league since the all-star break and are 26-9 since Jan. 31. That's impressive. Miami is a narrow betting favorite in this series, 5-8 odds to Charlotte's 8-5, with both 100-1 longshots to win the NBA title. I see a serious challenge for Miami. So does ESPN, which ranks this series No. 1 of the eight for upset potential, which it estimates at 46 percent. My pick: Heat in 6 games.

WHO WERE HEAT AND PANTHERS' REGULAR-SEASON MVPS?: For the Heat the list is short: Dwyane Wade or Hassan Whiteside (that's alphabetical). Cannot see including anyone else; Chris Bosh just missed too big a chunk of the season. For the Panthers it's more complicated but I narrowed it down to four main contenders, also listed alphabetically. Have your say in both polls, and check back often to monitor evolving results. Which Heater and Panther have meant the most to their team's playoff season?

THE HISTORY OF HOME PLAYOFF GAMES FOR OUR BIG FOUR TEAMS: With the Panthers hosting their first-round opener of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight vs. the New York Islanders and the Heat hosting their first-round Game 1 vs. the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday, we thought a quick review of South Florida home playoff history was in order:

108: Miami Heat: This is the 19th playoff season. Have played 39 postseason series totaling 108 home games. Home playoff record 78-30, .722. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Heat has hosted 16 NBA Finals games, winning championships on its home floor in 2012 and '13.

22: Miami Dolphins: Team has had 16 playoff seasons. Have played 22 postseason home games. Home playoff record 15-7, .682. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Dolphins have hosted six AFC Championship Games, winning in 1971, 1973, 1982 and 1984, and losing in 1985 and 1992. 

22: Florida Panthers: This is fifth playoff season. Are playing in eighth postseason series totaling 22 home games through last night. Home playoff record 11-11, .500. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Panthers hosted two Stanley Cup Finals games in 1996 but were swept, so biggest home game may have been the Game 6 win in conference finals that forced a Game 7 in Pittsburgh. 

18: Miami Marlins: Team has had two playoff seasons. Have played six postseason series totaling 17 home games. Home playoff record 11-6, .647. Highest stakes/biggest home games: Marlins have hosted seven World Series games, winning the championship at home in a dramatic Game 7 on Oct. 26, 1997.

HEAT vs. CHARLOTTE HORNETS:

G1: HOME Sunday 17th 5:30 p.m.

G2: HOME Wednesday 20th 7 p.m.

G3: @ CHA Saturday 23rd 5:30 p.m.

G4: @ CHA Monday 25th time tbd

G5*: HOME Wednesday 27th time tbd

G6*: @ CHA Friday 29th time tbd

G7*: HOME Sunday 1st time tbd

PANTHERS vs. NEW YORK ISLANDERS:

G1: Islanders 5, Panthers 4

G2: Panthers 2, Islanders 1.

G3: @ NYI Sunday 17th 8 p.m.

G4: @ NYI Wednesday 20th 8 p.m.

G5*: HOME Friday 22nd time tbd

G6*: @ NYI Sunday 24th time tbd

G7*: HOME Tuesday 26th time tbd

Poll result: Warriors' record swamps Kobe's finale for night's biggest event: We asked which was bigger to close the NBA regular season -- the Warriors' record 73rd win or Kobe Bryant's final game, and it was Warriors routing Kobe by 72.1 percent to 27.9%. The result surprised me a bit. At the least, shouldn't it have been closer?

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