When the Penguins jumped out to a two goal lead before most people could turn on the TV thanks to the goals from their two best players, it looked like Friday night would be a replica of Game One. Dominance on both sides of the ice against a listless Islanders squad. Instead the Islanders rolled up their sleeves, got to work, and never looked back. They peppered 42 shots on goal and another 30 or so in its general direction in a winning effort. More importantly, the Islanders won and didn’t look out of place doing it. It’s almost like gulp they could make a series out of this after all.
The Islander goals weren’t pretty unless you can appreciate an odd angle shot sneaking in the net as the result of a frenetic rush like Colin MacDonald’s goal. Unless you can find beauty in Matt Martin working the defenseman down low and bulling his way to a rebound goal, you might call the game a fluke. After all, if Marc Andre Fleury had played Kyle Okposo’s shot off the back boards a little better, the two teams might still be locked in overtime battle. As it stands, none of that matters. The Islanders have split the series on the road and they deserve to be where they are thanks to a tireless game plan that saw them pin the Penguins in their own end for long stretches throughout the game.
The Penguins, while clearly a faster, more talented squad, appeared to let up after their early lead, and it’s almost hard to blame them, except for that whole It’s the playoffs thing. They’d scored the first seven goals of the series in all, and the Islanders looked like pushovers through most of it. It’s surprising unless of course you remember that the last three Pittsburgh playoff runs have ended in disappointing fashion with them falling to a lesser foe.
Perhaps it was the return of Sidney Crosby. Perhaps it was the raucous crowd worked into a lather by the early goals. Either way, the Penguins got far too comfortable on their own ice, and found themselves dominated by New York for long stretches of time. The goals may not have been pretty, but make no mistake, the Islanders were the better team in Game Two. The question for the Penguins now is where do they go from here and does this dampen their chances at returning to the deep rounds in the playoffs?
This third game will be pivotal for both teams. The Islanders have to cash in on their momentum and the Penguins have to shut it down if they’re to keep down a team that gets better as a game goes along.
Three Stars of Game 2:
Third star: Evgeni Malkin:
That first goal in Game 2 was a thing of beauty. Crosby may be the best player in the world, and Stamkos may have the best shot in the world, but no one is scoring that goal except Geno Malkin. You can blame the top line guys all you want for not coming up with a goal after the early parts of the second period, but Malkin’s four points in the first two games are as much as you could expect from the guy. This team’s depth will be put to the test against a tenacious Islanders squad, but count on Malkin to be the dagger that sticks it to the Islanders on the road, if there is to be such a thing.
Second star: Evgeni Nabokov:
It was a good game to be named Evgeni for sure. You had to feel for Nabokov after that second goal. It would have been easy for him to think this game was out of reach, but Nabokov hung in there and only gave up one more goal for the rest of the game while making 33 saves to support his team’s rabid comeback. Without some big saves on a later power play in the second period, Nabokov and the Isles might be headed home down 2-0.
First star: Kyle Okposo:
Okposo is clearly not impressed by this whole “Pittsburgh Penguins” rage. After watching a teammate absorb a big hit from Matt Niskanen, Okposo went after the hulking defenseman and left Niskanen bloodied for his trouble. Seconds later, the Islanders would score the goal that made it 3-2 Pens with lots of time to play. It was likely more the situation than the hit that prompted Okposo to go. He knew his team needed a lift and he provided it. Later in the third, it was his shot that would bounce off the boards and sneak past a shaky Marc Andre Fleury. Kyle Okposo is what you want out of a second line forward in the playoffs. Tough, mean, with a nice set of hands for punching and for shooting. The Penguins will continue to make life hell for John Tavares and Matt Moulson so it’s up to Okposo to take the pressure off them and continue his production.
Keys to Game Three for Pittsburgh:
Break the forecheck: The Islanders hemmed Pittsburgh in its own zone for long stretches of time. They dominated the boards and used their physicality to back off a Pens team that appeared to miss Brooks Orpik. The Penguins are one of the fastest teams in the league. To beat that tenacity, they need to make a crisp first pass out of the zone and use the Islanders aggressive forecheck against them to create odd man situations. For a team so fast, the Penguins have had precious few of those, much to the credit of the Islanders.
Marc Andre Fleury: Fleury wasn’t awful on Friday, but he’s certainly had better games. He needs to stop treating the puck like a hot potato and hug the posts. The Islanders don’t have many snipers. He needs to keep everything in front of him and stick to simplicity. The Penguins will not advance unless Fleury stops giving up goofy goals.
Keys to Game Three for New York:
Get even more physical: Tough to imagine given what we saw Friday, but the Isles have to expect a simpler, more focused effort from Pittsburgh in Uniondale. The Islanders need to throw more shoulders, start more fights, and generally get their fans whipped in such a frenzy, they’ll put those Romans in Gladiator to shame.
Take fewer penalties or drastically improve that PK: At one point, the Islanders were 3 for 6 on penalty killing. That cannot continue. The Penguins are simply too lethal on the power play to mess around. The Islanders will have to toe the line on this one, but it’s absolutely imperative that they stop giving up long power plays. Heck, even the short ones are bad. If they can stay out of the box, the rest of this series is pretty even.
We’ll see you after Game Four, when we recap the action on the island. Until then, sports fans.