On the anniversary of David %$&&#% Volek’s goal, the Islanders pulled off what many fans and media thought was an impossible task and evened up their series with the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins and spoiled the return of the league’s everything, Sidney Crosby.
There was a lot of angst early among fans. This game looked quite a bit like the last one, but it turns out that Jack Capuano was smarter than many of us (I was particularly wrong) with the way he constructed today’s lineup, and the team just needed to get rid of some residual butterflies before the Isles got back to winning-streak April form.
The Isles came out ugly and seemingly lost Sidney Crosby for much of the first period. Evgeni Malkin got things started at :43 seconds when Travis Hamonic tried to set a physical tone. Hamonic got Malkin with a couple of good hits, but Malkin slipped the final one, got to the front of the net by himself and banged in a rebound to put the Pens up 1-0.
The Isles got a bit of pressure after that, but 2:23, Andrew MacDonald was whistled for a pretty soft slashing penalty when he knocked the stick out of a Penguin’s hands. On a defensive zone faceoff, Frans Nielsen was kicked out leaving Michael Grabner to take the draw against Crosby. The puck came back to Malkin who fired a shot that deflected off the boards back to Jerome Iginla who fed Crosby across the crease who was left alone for the easy tap in.
This Penguin power play has at least three probable hall of famers on it, and it is basically just not fair.
The Isles did start to gain some momentum and generate some shots leading to a couple of Penguin icings and a subsequent Bylsma timeout to get his team some rest.
Deryk Engelland did his part to try and keep the Isles in this one taking two penalties in the period. The first was cross check on Casey Cizikas against the offensive boards. On the ensuing power play, Mark Streit got the puck to Tavares who dished to Moulson. Moulson fired a pass across the crease that deflected in of a Penguin to cut the deficit to one.
Just :18 seconds later, the Penguins got it right back though. Mark Eaton (yep) got a point shot and Nabokov gave up a terrible rebound right to Sidney Crosby who materialized from behind the net uncovered again. He placed a bad-angle shot behind Nabby to give the Pens some more cushion.
After that though, the Isles looked to settle down, play a little tougher and actually had the better of the shots for the balance of the period. (Not that you can take too much from that when the opposition has a two goal lead) They played pretty physically, completed passes better and looked to be skating with purpose.
And that momentum would carry over.
The teams started 4 on 4 for a minute and a half due to the carry over of matching roughing penalties on Hamonic and Cooke at the end of the first. Nothing much was generated by either side during that time, but when they returned to even strength, the Isles got back to work. The Ullstrom/Aucoin/McDonald line had an effective forecheck and cycle (in particular, Ullstrom who hit often and shrugged off Penguin resistance).
And finally, after 319 NHL games, Kyle Okposo brought us this:
Someone finally woke the bear we all hoped Okposo can be, and it seemed to enhance the team’s momentum a bit to boot. Okposo was defending Moulson after a big hit from Niskanen in the neutral zone.
:14 seconds after Okposo’s tilt, Colin McDonald tapped in a flukey goal off a tough forecheck by Keith Aucoin. The puck bounced high in the air behind the net, McDonald gloved it down and banged it in off of Fleury to cut the lead to one.
Then the Isles started to dictate a little more of the physical play and got the Pens to retaliate a bit, started wearing them down, and their zone entries started to look worse, their passes rushed a bit and their play was no longer the well oiled machine of the first four periods.
Brian Strait laid big hits on Crosby (penalty on Iginla for boarding in retaliation) and Jokinen to send a bit of a message that the stars would be hit. The hit on Jokinen created a turnover and scoring chance for Ullstrom.
But prior to the Jokinen chance, Matt Martin tied the game after tapping in the carom of a Josh Bailey shot that went off the end boards. Fleury did not play it well, but Martin had beaten his man in and placed the shot well.
The Isles carried play for a while, Tavares took a four minute high sticking penalty at 16:31 that broke the offensive momentum. Nabby was brilliant on the kill making huge stops on Beau Bennett and Crosby who had multiple chances in tight and unconteseted as well as Kunitz who got a shot off that Nabby got with a leg kick, and denied him a rebound.
The Penguin fans were getting restless and the Isles would start the next period 29 seconds of PK time.
Nabokov came up with a couple of big saves against the Penguins top unit during the balance of the PK time, but after that, the Isles got right back to their zone possession work. The third was slower and more deliberate for a while though with only 16 shots between the teams (after 27 in the second).
Nabokov robbed Crosby (2G 8shots) with the glove off a two on two sequence, and really, looked much more composed after the first. He was square to shooters, efficient with movement and controlled rebounds well. Not a moment too soon.
Kyle Okposo got the very fitting go ahead goal for the Isles at 12:23 off a spin-o-rama shot off the boards that Fleury own-goaled when the carom hit him. The Isles were able to clamp down and keep the Pens to the outside for the remainder and got quality cycles out of the Ullstom/Aucoin/McDonald and Tavares/Boyes/Bailey to eat up significant chunks of clock.
They also get under the Penguins’ skin a little. Travis Hamonic continued to hit Malkin as often as he could which seemed to upset Jarome Iginla who looks ripe for retaliation penalties throughout this series.
- David Ullstrom didn’t seem to miss a beat not being with the big club. He had a tremendous sequence with big shot block, cycle, get back on D for a pass intercept, and back down the other way for a shot and created an O-zone faceoff. He looks to have earned another start.
- Brian Strait validated Jack Capuano’s lineup decision leaving him in. Strait hadn’t looked good since he came back from injury, but tonight, he was physical and well positioned most of the time.
- The Isles generated a ton of shots (42-33) and when you factor in the blocks, it was a lot more. I’m not sure how many would have predicted this level of possession, but if they can replicate this, they will be in great shape.
- They really need to stop giving up early goals, but they evolved a bit in this game. They were fluid, they were assertive, they moved through the play instead of reaching for it, and they wore Pittsburgh down.
- Matt Carkner didn’t look out of place, but man, I’m not sure if him over Hickey is the right move…results notwithstanding. Although I’ve yet to check the advanced stats. He only skated 8:45, a team low.
- I’d been critical of the roster decisions throughout the day, and was pretty wrong. I was thrilled with the lines though and Capuano did well to have puck movers and shooters spread throughout the lineup. I liked the balance.
Congratulations Islander fans, it’s been a long time coming.