The first third-period comeback win of the year. The first time the Isles got a lead and continued pressing play for the final six minutes. No defensive shell, no let-up, no chaos. They went into the third down 2-1, and responded by outshooting the Penguins 18-5 in the final frame (37-21 for the game).
That's how it's done, to the tune of a 3-2 win over the reigning Cup champs.
Maybe it doesn't happen if the Islanders don't get a huge morale-boosting tying goal by Sean Bergenheim just 1:24 into the third, on a sniper shot to the top post. But Bergenheim worked hard all game to produce something like that. It's always about exuberance with him -- like his ill-advised last-minute icing, when he went for the empty net instead of the soft clear. But his exuberance is what makes him such a diligent, hungry penalty killer and rally-smotherer. He was everywhere today, and he deserved this reward.
He wasn't the only one.
Jack Hillen committed two penalties -- they were soft penalties, "new NHL" penalties that he's been getting called on, using his body when a guy (Sidney Crosby) doesn't have the puck, or his arm to position when a guy (Jordan Staal) does. The latter is in part due to Hillen's small frame, but he is learning the finer points of this thin line. Meanwhile, he had another outstanding game -- the shorthanded breakaway wasn't the half of it -- and with today's plus-2 he is now a team-high plus-8 on the year in 22 games. Hillen logged 22:45 -- second most on the team despite his spending four minutes in the box.
Speaking strictly as a fan here and not as an analytical voice (whatever that is), it is some kind of joy to watch a guy blossom in front of our very eyes, isn't it? At this point, do you have an idea what his ceiling is? 'Cause I sure don't. I just look forward to watching him keep pushing to reach it. Hockey, baby.
The Penalty Kill. They killed off yet another 5-on-3, with Frans Nielsen and Bruno Gervais doing a lot of the dirty work. This one was notable because Andy Sutton -- often a go-to guy for Islanders 3-on-5 kills -- was in the box.
Josh Bailey goes to the net and scores, matching his season total from last year of 7 goals. He's been on a mini-tear lately, and he's another young player who we get to watch blossom. His healthy scratch a few weeks ago didn't even phase me: The kid is just 20. But if one healthy scratch is all he ever needs to focus his career in the right direction, consider us lucky. Today, combined with Jon Sim's second consecutive game of being a wonderful nuisance, Bailey, Sim and Jeff Tambellini formed a worthwhile third line.
John Tavares shines. Tavares was making moves and assertive plays with the puck we don't see every game. If his one-on-three move by Sergei Gonchar (Brent Johnson made the poke-check) were, say, Crosby on Hillen instead, then the defenseman gets a penalty. Instead, Gonchar received the benefit of the doubt, but Tavares served notice. Fitting, then, that he was there to knock in the winning goal, after an excellent deflection by Matt Moulson on Freddy Meyer's shot from the point.
That Moulson Guy. Yeah, that was him, again, standing in front of the net, banging bodies, creating space for Tavares and company. The Islanders' second-highest scorer is not living on coattails. He's an NHLer.
The Fourth Line. I've taken to cringing, as many teams' fans do, when their fourth line is out against a Crosby or Malkin. Today there was only one such shift that scared me to death, while they had a few shifts that were fairly even and one big shift in the second where Tim Jackman, Richard Park and Nate Thompson actually hemmed Crosby's line in their own zone. Those are the little bonus shifts that keep your team alive and send a buzz through the bench. Something about seeing David hang in there with Goliath. Good on them.
Honorable Mention: Pity Brent Johnson, who played an outstanding game for the Penguins and was left to the wolves. Frank at Pensburgh has noted how he's received no goal support, and today was no different. But Johnson nearly pulled a Boucher on the Isles. Difference was, today the Isles peppered for 60 minutes instead of just 40.
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This is just the second time the Penguins under Dan Bylsma have entered the third period with a lead and lost the game in regulation. So entering today's third, I felt like "we don't deserve to be behind" but since we were, I was resigned.
But with this big win, it changes the outlook of the week -- imagine if our only win was the Toronto debacle? -- and makes tomorrow in Newark all the more interesting. The Devils tied the Bruins today 1-1 and took the shootout bonus point, so neither team has the "rest" excuse. To beat the Devils, it's going to take a little luck and more consistent, 60-minute work like we saw today. Hope they're up for it.