Everything looked the same: A little bit of bad luck, a little bit of poor discipline, a little bit of sloppy goaltending had the New York Islanders on their heels and down 2-0 again in the opening minutes of Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But what did Isles fans repeat to themselves tediously throughout the last 48 hours? "Just one game." "Each game is different." "Just get a split."
The Islanders got a split. And like their April rise to the playoffs, it came with the help of multiple lines, including Kyle Okposo, who is suddenly a fighter and was the beneficiary of Marc-Andre Fleury's flopping on the game-winning goal.
With new line combinations -- Matt Moulson and John Tavares split! -- and an energy line to start things off, the Islanders were looking to avoid the bad start they had in Game 1.
Still on that first shift with the Casey Cizikas line, Evgeni Malkin found a bouncing puck around the islanders' top defensive pair and popped it in just 43 seconds into the game.
Worse, the Islanders couldn't even avoid repeating the early penalty that sent things spiraling to the toilet in Game 1. This time, Andrew MacDonald went off with an early slashing minor, and Sidney Crosby announced his return with a tap-in from the back door. It was 2-0 for the Pens 3:19 in the game. Here we go again.
The Islanders actually played well throughout, pushing the Penguins and generating shots. Matt Moulson got one back on the power play -- and then Crosby scored again just 18 seconds later -- but the Isles were doing well enough to force consecutive icings and a timeout by the Penguins while they had a 3-1 lead.
There was something in the Islanders play that said, "They're back. This is the team fans got excited about." They outshot the Penguins 20-12 in the first period, the TV announcers on multiple feeds noted that the 3-1 score flattered the Penguins, and Crosby said they needed to get much better at the first intermission.
But the Isles kept pushing and kept the Penguins from getting where they wanted to be.
Apparently You Don't Open the Kyle Okposo Door
There was also this:
Who knew? To those of us who have watched Okposo's whole NHL career and been frustrated by moments when hew wouldn't assert his will -- not in fighting necessarily, but in board play -- this was almost a giggling moment. Okposo has been great the last few months. Now this?
(And did I detect a special grin on his face when the refs made him change his jersey because it still had some Niskanen on it?)
That fight with Matt Niskanen came when it was 3-1, with Okposo objecting to what he thought was a run at Moulson by Niskanen. Even though what followed was a fortuitous bounce, every broadcaster and many a fan will swear to you that Okposo's first career fight was a factor in the Islanders scoring their second goal 14 seconds later.
It was Colin McDonald, on a wrapping bouncer. Could the Islanders' strong play actually lead to some good luck again? Turns out, yes. Matt Martin added another opportunistic one five minutes later, and suddenly the scoreboard reflected the play on the ice: This is no blowout. This is a game.
M.Martin: "Being down 2-0 early, we started to see (Game 1) again. We were scared of that. We knew we couldn’t get embarrassed again tonite"— Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) May 4, 2013
But it could have gone disastrous again. Though Nabokov was shaky on the early goals, he and the rest of the penalty kill were absolutely huge in killing off a four-minute high-sticking double-minor to John Tavares that consumed the end of the second period and the beginning of the third. A few scary Penguins setups shot wide helped, too.
Third Period Strategery
The third period was fun, and thankfully the young Isles didn't rest on the joy of a nice comeback and avoiding disaster. You knew the winner would come on a break for one team or the other, you just didn't know -- looking at the bounces on earlier goals for both teams -- which team the hockey gods favored tonight.
Turns out they favored Okposo. His shot against the end boards caromed to Fleury, who tried to bat it away with his blocker but instead yanked it back into his own net.
With John Tavares having a very active game -- much better than Game 1 -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma started putting Crosby out against him instead of reliable checker Brandon Sutter, as part of a double-shift to try to get the equalizer.
But the Islanders bent, didn't break. Indeed, the resilient April Islanders had shown up on this night. They left those other guys somewhere back in January, somewhere back in Game 1.