Not in the cropped picture: Water bottle's carcass.
This 5-3 New York Islanders win over the Pittsburgh Penguins is not to be attributed to "playing pressure free" late in the season. It is not to be attributed to "turning it on when it doesn't matter." But you know the myopic will do so.
Rather, hockey is a funny game, period. So sometimes even when you're outshot 30-18 through two periods you still enter the 2nd intermission up 5-2.
And sometimes you're outshot 54-25 overall yet still score five times and win -- without a single goal from the top line that had generated 45% of your goals entering the game.
Not that I'm complaining. This game was odd overall, from wild swings (2-0, 2-2, 5-2, each coach calling a timeout in the 2nd period) to neither starting goalie playing past 40 minutes to Sidney Crosby being called for a dangerous crosscheck from behind on P.A. Parenteau. Though outplayed for many stretches, the Isles were resilient and opportunistic enough to make the most of their chances and make their conversions hold up.
The end result is the first win in Pittsburgh since 2007 -- back when you'd get four cracks a season -- knocking another Pennsylvania monkey off the back.
Marc-Andre Fleury was not himself, conceding two goals on the rush (good shots, but still). Evgeni Nabokov was himself which is why his exit after two periods was still a decent night's work with 28 saves. (Lower body injury was the word, though it didn't look serious.)
The Isles took a 1-0 lead thanks to Frans Nielsen (he of the "going backward" season while extending his career high) on the Isles' first shot of the game, a rebound after Dylan Reese walked in had his shot carom behind the net and out the other side.
That slim lead did not look strong, but the character of the game looked like it might change when the Frans Nielsen and then Casey Cizikas after he came out of the box -- and went the other way with Michael Grabner scoring on the rush as only five seconds remained on the clock. A demoralizing goal, or one that would get the Pens to come out even harder in the second?narrowly survived a PK late in the first period -- fantastic final plays by
The Islanders would blow that 2-0 lead in just 4:10 of the second period and get heavily outshot in the second as they were in the first. Except a strange thing happened halfway through that middle period: The Islanders started pouring in goals -- and none of them involved John Tavares or Matt Moulson.
First Kyle Okposo fired a laser over Fleury's glove on the break -- yes, that made two solo long shots on the rush past Fleury from distance. Then the second powerplay unit worked it around with Bailey and Okposo setting David Ullstrom up for a powerplay
goal, Ullstrom's fourth on the season and second since returning from the AHL. Finally, Frans Nielsen scored on a breakaway behind a mixed-up Pens change in a humorous play we'll get to below.
As the Pens pressed and pressed in the third, they got one back with the goalie pulled while on a 4-on-3 powerplay -- Neal for his 37th of the season and 2nd of the game. But no other good Penguins bounces were forthcoming.
Of Concern: Ullström did not play in the third period. Haven't seen an injury report yet, so leave it in comments if you hear one. [Update: Staple's report in Newsday says "upper body."]
Paul Martin Takes Out Marc-Andre Fleury: On July 1, 2010, Garth Snow reportedly bid hard on Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek but came up empty as each signed with the . HIs consolation prize was Milan Jurcina and Mark Eaton ... not quite the same. But tonight Martin showed he could've provided what Jurcina does in his Lenny-most moments: Take out your own goalie.
This one was on a Nielsen breakaway, when Nielsen went forehand around Fleury's poke and Martin went head-high on Fleury. Fleury would not return for the third.
Streaking? When the barrage was over, Josh Bailey had three assists on the night, Nielsen had his career-high-extending 16th and 17th, and Okposo had his 18th (three games in a row), one off his career high. Going to be interesting where those guys' boxcar totals end up when this disappointing season is over.
Blown Coverage: The tying goal though did not come from the Penguins controlling play, it came from a collective failure to read the play. John Tavares just missed a feed in front of the goal from the right wing with Mark Streit pinching as the third man. The puck escaped to the corner where Evgeni Malkin retrieved it and fired it all the way to Chris Kunitz at the Islanders blueline.
As Tavares was missing with his shot, Matt Moulson was changing for Michael Grabner. Grabner didn't read the play and was quickly passed by James Neal -- who was picked up by no one as he flew up ice and scored on the 2-on-1 feed from Kunitz.
The Pens would return the favor later on Nielsen's breakaway goal, as he slipped open and over the blueline easily, eliciting Martin's encounter with Fleury.
Oh really? Apparently Bob Errey said on the Pens feed, as he often does, if the Penguins couldn't win they should at least lay a bruising. No doubt Mario weeps.
Not Only But Also: Sound Tigers won after an awful start. They're in first.
Quote of the Night
"I don't want him on my spelling team but I do want him on my hockey team."
>>Patrick Flatley on Butch Goring
Apparently Flats was on fire tonight.
* * *
This was a fun game, of course, despite the lopsided shots and hairy bend-don't-break moments making the Isles look much more vulnerable than the final score. But they did what they needed to, and the Pens despite mounting pressure left holes for the Isles to seize.
Hockey is just funny this way. It's not "pressure free" or any such rationale that's attached to March wins but somehow eludes credit for January wins. If anything, the Isles fielded four decent lines and survived one of the most dominant opponents in the league.
Now they get to try to repeat it at home Thursday.