(Long Island, N.Y.) They were able to accomplish what they needed to do in Pittsburgh. As the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders split the first two games of the NHL playoffs versus the top-seeded Penguins and had the luxury of heading home level.
A raucous crowd awaited them at the Nassau Coliseum and the team didn’t disappoint by taking a 2-0 lead in the first period. But that disappeared quickly when the Pens evened the score with two power play goals within 19 seconds, the first of the 5-on-3 variety. Sidney Crosby later lit the lamp before the first intermission and the momentum had completely swung the other way.
Facing another shorthanded situation and a two-goal deficit, Kyle Okposo gave the Islanders a boost with a tally of his own and before the final horn sounded, John Tavares had tied things up, sending the game to an extra stanza.
But playing with fire against an opponent as lethal as Pittsburgh will often get you burned and when Mark Streit was sent off to the penalty box at approximately the nine-minute mark in overtime, the Penguins were able to take advantage once again and score another power play goal, this time by Chris Kunitz.
“It was a good hockey game,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said to reporters after the game, which put his team behind two-games-to-one in the series. “It had a good flow. It was quick; it was physical.”
“At the end of the day, you always talk about special teams being a big factor and (today) was no different,” continued Capuano. “They scored three power play goals. In special teams, they got the edge (today) and that’s why they won the game.”
Moving forward, the Islanders need to play physical, but also smart. Yes, to combat a talented finesse player like Crosby, you have to try to make him as uncomfortable as possible. But by going down a man, that gives those types of players a huge advantage. Playing more disciplined will be something that Capuano needs to address, as the team has four players (Matt Moulson, Casey Cizikas, Marty Reasoner and Travis Hamonic) with double-digit penalty minutes in the series so far.
Tuesday evening’s game at the Coliseum now becomes a must-win for the Islanders. If they go behind 3-1 headed back to Pittsburgh, what was already a mountain to climb becomes a skyscraper. Some may say that the Islanders have already shown great tenacity so far by winning one and taking another to overtime, but no one who was present at the arena on Sunday – fans and players alike – wants to hear talk like that.
To be able to pull off this upset, the Islanders have to play mistake-free hockey and skating off to the penalty box for two minutes is not part of that formula. When you have a two-goal advantage in your own building, you have to find a way to close it out. And going down a man at the most inopportune time makes that more difficult.