The New York Islanders have accomplished another feat few people thought they were capable of: they have evened their best-of-seven series with the Pittsburgh Penguins at two games apiece. Mark Streit scored twice and added an assist while Casey Cizikas had a goal and two helpers to lead the Isles to a 6-4 win over the Penguins on Tuesday night at a noisy, sold out Nassau Coliseum.
In this game, the Islanders showed their persistence and never quit. They fell behind 3-2 and 4-3 but never stopped attacking and never stopped pressuring the Penguins net. Eventually, they found ways to beat Marc-Andre Fleury who continues to look shaky between the pipes for Pittsburgh.
The game went back and forth early, with Brian Strait putting the Isles up 1-0 at the 14:05 mark of the opening period. The goal had to be sweet for Strait. It was his first NHL goal and he was picked up by the Islanders on waivers from the Penguins back in January.
The lead was short-lived as James Neal, back in the lineup after missing the previous two games due to injury, scored just 45 seconds later for Pittsburgh to even the score.
In the second period, the Islanders power play finally cashed in when Mark Streit scored his first of the playoffs at 6:19 but 58 seconds later, Evgeni Malkin again tied the game for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins went ahead on Brandon Sutter’s goal at the 11:03 mark of the second period before Kyle Okposo banked the puck in off Fleury from behind the Penguins goal line to even the score at 3-3.
“I knew that Fleury was scrambling around,” Okposo said. “I knew there were a lot of bodies in front, so I was just trying to get it out there and bank it off something but it ended up going off him.”
Pascal Dupuis made it 4-3 Penguins just 41 seconds into the third period but the Islanders regrouped and evened the score at the 4:30 mark on Streit’s second goal of the game off a nice setup by Cizikas.
John Tavares netted the game winner at the 10:11 mark of the third period. Evgeni Malkin’s clearing attempt was stolen by Brad Boyes who found Tavares deep in the Pittsburgh zone. Fleury made the first save but Tavares put home his own rebound and the Islanders took a 5-4 lead.
They did what they had to do to protect the lead after that, making the simple play to either clear their own zone or get the puck in deep to the Pittsburgh zone.
The Islanders also played disciplined hockey, giving the Penguins only two power plays and killing both of them successfully. Meanwhile, the home team was 1-for-4.
Cizikas clinched the win with a goal with 1:16 left on the clock by bulling his way down the wing and beating Fleury for the sixth time on the night.
At the end of the game, the intensity level rose again as Malkin challenged Travis Hamonic to drop the gloves. They both received fighting majors at the 20:00 mark of the third period.
“He wanted to go and he threw a punch,” Hamonic explained. “I thought it was on and I threw a couple and then a couple of guys jumped on me.”
While he wouldn’t say so definitively, Pens coach Dan Bylsma appears to be strongly considering going with backup goalie Tomas Vokoun in net for Game 5. ‘”When you lose hockey games, you’ve got to look for answers and reasons why,” Bylsma said. “We had swings in this game and some unfortunate bounces and some bad goals, but at the end of the day we let in six goals and that is way too many.”
The Islanders players seem to be the only ones who are not surprised by their success in this series. “We know what we have to do to win games,” forward Colin McDonald said. “And that’s the only thing we’re worried about. We take it one shift at a time. We’re never out of it and we just keep looking ahead and keep looking forward.”
“We’ve got 20 guys who are competitors,” Okposo added. “We want to win. You saw tonight in the third period, we never gave up, we just kept going at them and good things happened.”
Hamonic and the Islanders are relishing the opportunity they have in what is the first NHL playoff series for most of them. “It’s a great series and it’s going back and forth,” Hamonic said. “I love it. These are the games I love to play in and I try to play like I’m having a lot of fun out there because I am really enjoying it so far…People wrote us off from the start of the year and we just keep coming. That’s where our philosophy is at right now.”
Okposo summed up the feeling in the Islanders dressing room after the game. When asked if the NHL playoffs were everything he thought they would be, the Islanders forward got a wide grin on his face that he could not contain and simply said, “Yeah, I love it.”
The series continues Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Tonight’s win guarantees that the Islanders will return home for Game 6 on Saturday. Islanders tickets for this and other games are available.
This was the first playoff win at home for the Islanders since 2002.
The Penguins got James Neal and Brooks Orpik back in their lineup.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald left the game in the second period due to an upper body injury and did not return. His status for Game 5 is uncertain.