The New York Islanders had a moment straight from the movie “Network” Friday night during their 9-3 beating of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum.
Like actor Peter Finch’s character in the film, the Islanders were “mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore.” The result was a blowout Isles win that featured and a combined 346 penalty minutes including 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts.All that was missing were the Hanson Brothers.
Being pushed around has been an issue for the Islanders all season, but they especially felt it in recent games.
In their last meeting with the Penguins, the Isles saw Pittsburgh netminder Brent Johnson knock starting goalie Rick DiPietro out with one punch and DP will miss 4-6 weeks with broken facial bones. Pens forward Max Talbot of the also hit Blake Comeau with what many Isles players thought was a cheap shot and Comeau hasn’t played since due to a concussion. Then, earlier this week against the Maple Leafs, John Tavares was manhandled by several Leafs players and grew so frustrated he slammed the door to the Islanders bench when his teammates didn’t respond and no penalties were called.
“For us, it’s been really frustrating all season long,” admitted Isles forward Zenon Konopka. “There’s been a few things out of our control, and a few things in our control. It wasn’t just a direct hit at Pittsburgh, they just kind of fell in the way. It was a lot emotions built up. It goes to demonstrate how close a bunch we have in here.”
Tavares was also pleased with the moxy his team demonstrated.
“It shows, especially in our locker room, what everyone means to each other,” he said. “We’ll do anything for each other. We made sure, especially going out in the third period, that we were protecting each other. We were talking to each other, we had our heads up, we weren’t putting anyone at risk, and if they had one guy in there we tried to have at least one or two.”
The competitive part of the hockey game was over quickly. The Isles jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first period and added two more in the first 3:46 of the second to open up a 6-0 lead. Three Islanders broke the 20-goal barrier for the season tonight incluing Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner.
Rookie tough guy Michael Haley, who was called up in anticipation of a chippy game, scored his first NHL goal and added 39 penalty minutes in just 5:31 of ice time.
After the sixth goal was scored, Pens Coach Dan Bylsma pulled Johnson and replaced him with Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury allowed two goals in the remainder of the second period before giving way to Johnson again in the third.
By the end of the game, there were only four Islanders who failed to register a point and all of them picked up significant penalty minutes. Tavares had a goal and three assists to lead all scorers while Travis Hamonic, Grabner and Moulson had three points each.
By the third period, the game had devolved into an old-fashioned grudge match which featured pushing and shoving after nearly every whistle and a fight after every shove. The exhausted officials were handing out misconducts just to clear the ice as much as because they were deserved due to the actions of any individual player. By the end of the game, there were just two players available on the Pittsburgh bench, one forward and one defenseman.
“The first half of the game was a hockey game, and the second was not,” Bylsma told the Associate Press. “I certainly didn’t anticipate the third period looking like that. At that point we were going out to play and play hard and not put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves or anything else. I wasn’t expecting quite what we got.”
After the game was over, a fence that separates the locker rooms of the two teams was put up and arena security was present to make sure the two teams didn’t continue their disagreement in the hallway.
The fallout from this game is far from over. The league will certainly hand out plenty of fines and suspensions in the coming days and the teams will meet one more time this season, on April 8 at the Nassau Coliseum.
For the Islanders, there is a hope that this game did more than just earn them two points and set some new penalty minute records. They hope it helped unify their team and filled in something that seemed to be lacking earlier this season.
“There was a lot of emotion out there tonight,” Tavares said. “We came out and really dominated early. It set the tone for the rest of the game. It’s nice to get a win against those guys, score some goals. They shut us out the last time. It was pretty entertaining out there for the fans and we’ll take it.”
The Islanders return to action Sunday afternoon when they travel to Buffalo to take on the Sabres.