If there’s one thing we should take from this Penguins/Islanders series, it’s that coming out on home ice and scoring two quick goals is obviously a recipe for disaster. Two days after the Islanders came back from an early 2-0 deficit to win in Pittsburgh, New York came out to a roaring start on Sunday afternoon in front of a raucous Nassau Colliseum, only to give up four straight goals and eventually lose in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They now trail the Penguins 2-1 in the series.
It had been six years since Islanders fans watched playoff hockey in their arena, and they didn’t waste a minute of its return. The crowd was outstanding all afternoon, primed by two goals in the first six minutes of the game, and an ice surface tipped heavily toward Marc Andre Fleury for much of the first ten minutes. Much like Game 2, it felt like the home team would run away with this one early.
But the Penguins had another idea. After scoring two power play goals in twenty seconds to tie the game, the Penguins turned around with a minute left in the first period and took the lead on a Pascal Dupuis goal from Sidney Crosby. The second period was tighter and more evenly played, but saw Douglas Murray extend the Pens’ lead to 4-2. Kyle Okposo cut the lead to 4-3 in the third with a beautiful tip of the puck between his legs to stay onsides while he beat the defenseman, followed by a snipe under Fleury’s glove. John Tavares scored minutes later to send it to overtime. The Penguins had the last say though with an overtime goal off the stick of Chris Kunitz on the power play.
The Take Away:
Much like Game 2, the Islanders were the better team at even strength, but the Penguins proved to be too deadly on the power play and in odd-man situations for the Islanders to hang. The Islanders outshot the Penguins 36-25 and carried the play in the game for the first ten minutes and the last twenty. Had the third period continued another minute or two, the Islanders might have finished it right there because the Penguins were scrambling throughout the frame.
The Islanders will be disappointed with the results, but they have to continue with their aggressive forecheck and hard hitting approach to have any chance in this series. After this game, it’s fair to say they do have a legitimate chance of winning, but it hinges on this Game 4. If New York can make this a best of three series, anything can happen. They have been the better team for most of the last two games, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The Penguins meanwhile can’t feel too great about this win. Not only were they handled in their own zone for long stretches of time, but Marc Andre Fleury once again had a poor outing that almost cost Pittsburgh another win. The Penguins have so much team speed and so many snipers around the ice that they’re able to be the less imposing team and still win, but their opponent in the next round (should they advance) will likely have more scoring depth than the Islanders have. Another issue is the Penguins defensemen. What happened to these guys? They have one of the best in Letang, a pretty good one in Martin and…? This is a group that simply has not had an answer for the New York forecheck in the last two games. Their inept passing from their own zone keeps the Penguin forwards hemmed in for their entire shifts while the Islander blue liners can skate, wheel the puck, and keep up with the play in transition. Ray Shero was so bent on getting forwards for this team that he may have forgotten that Douglas Murray probably doesn’t qualify as a big enough upgrade if you’re looking to make a run. Time will tell if this proves to be Pittsburgh’s undoing.
Three Stars of Game 3:
Sidney Crosby (3 assists) – He was all over the ice being his usual MVP self. His fortunately timed slip of the leg lead to the overtime power play goal which he assisted on.
Kyle Okposo (1G, 1A) – Kyle Okposo’s 2015 account balance is really excited about Kyle Okposo’s 2013 playoff performance. He’s been the best Islander
forward thus far in the series. His goal in the third period was one of the best displays of everything you want out of a top six forward in the playoffs. Speed to beat the defenseman, skill to put the puck between his legs then shoot the puck home, and the toughness to completely ignore the goal post he slammed into after scoring the goal. The Islanders have a playoff gamer in Okposo and they’ll want to keep him for future playoff runs.
Chris Kunitz (2G, 1A) – Much like Okposo, fans got a little bit of everything from Kunitz. He put up two goals and an assist, he played a hard nosed game along the boards all night. It was a typical Kunitz game. Tough, smart, and underrated. You never think about Kunitz when you think about the Penguins, but he wears that A for a reason.