If the Penguins are going to get past the New York Islanders, they’re going to need Tristan Jarry to be a whole lot better.
Playing in just his second NHL playoff game, the 26-year-old netminder had fans invoking the name of his predecessor Matt Murray as he missed several stoppable pucks on the glove side – like this one early in the third period from J-G Pageau that tied the game, 2-2.
Head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t about to pin the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime loss on his goalie, however.
“I thought Tristan made some big saves throughout the course of the game to keep the game where it was at. There were some good saves at both ends of the rink. I just think we have to be better as a group.”
There are a few aspects of the Penguins’ game that could stand to be better, starting with the power play, where they went 0-for-3 against the Islanders’ highly ranked penalty kill. Pittsburgh started the contest with some good looks on the man-advantage, but finished with a power play that saw the Islanders get the best chance of the two minutes.
“I thought the first [two] power plays were really good,” Sullivan said. “I thought we had a lot of zone time, a lot of territory. A chance Sid [Crosby] had, there was a real good save on their part. The later power play we got, we weren’t quite as good, but you’ve got to give them credit. They defended hard as well.
“We believe in the power play groups that we have; they just didn’t finish tonight.”
“I thought we did some good things,” said captain Crosby. “The third one we had, I thought we didn’t quite move as well, but definitely that first one we had some momentum, had a lot of shots. If we continue to put pucks to the net that way and get recoveries like that, we’ll generate some scoring chances and they’ll go in the net.”
The Penguins had a nearly flawless record this season when leading after two periods. In this contest, however, taking a 2-1 edge into the final frame, they seemed to be on their heels, playing to preserve the lead instead of to win. After Pageau’s goal, they simply couldn’t find a way to swing the momentum back in their favor for a sustained time in regulation.
“You expect a team to push when they’re down a goal,” said Crosby. “We had some chances to build on our lead when it was 2-1 and we didn’t, and they were able to hang around.”
“I don’t think there was any moment where the game turned,” Sullivan said. “I think there were surges on both sides, there were momentum swings, and that’s playoff hockey. You’ve got to try to simplify the game and get back on your toes when you’re on your heels and the other team surges. I just think that’s playoff hockey; that’s the nature of this time of year. We’ve got to make sure that we minimize the times when we’re on our heels.”
Pittsburgh did get some pushback. Just 31 seconds after a 3-2 go-ahead goal from New York’s Brock Nelson, the Penguins’ Kasperi Kapanen responded with just 3:39 remaining to send the game to overtime. The Penguins also had the better of the overtime chances, but couldn’t find a way to come up with the winner before the Islanders’ Kyle Palmieri put home his second of the contest.
The Penguins’ inability to finish in this game cost them. With 62.3% of 5-on-5 scoring chances and 62.5% of high-danger scoring chances in Pittsburgh’s favor, it’s fair to say the Islanders – and surprise starter Ilya Sorokin, filling in for injured Semyon Varlamov – stole Game 1.
Jarry might well need to do that in Game 2, and his teammates have every confidence that he can.
“He’s been great for us all season long,” said defenseman Cody Ceci. “He’s won us a lot of games; even tonight he gave us a chance. There were a few times where they could have ended it and he made some big saves. We’re not worried about him. He’s a great player and he’s going to be there for us next game.”
There’s plenty of opportunity for the rest of the team to step up, too.
“I know we have more to give,” Sullivan said. “I know we have the ability to be a better team. It was a really even game, I think, and that’s what we expected. They’re a good team, and we believe we’re a good team also. we’ve just got to learn from this and see what we can take from it.”