Whenever the Islanders play the Penguins, there's still a lingering feeling of PTSD - Playoffs Trauma Stress Disorder. And tonight's edition - the first of an immediate back-to-back home-at-home - started with a serious flashback as Brandon Sutter tipped a Paul Martin shot past Chad Johnson barely a minute into the game.
But the Islanders settled down and eventually took over the first period, building a 3-1 lead with a series of quick strikes. It was the first turn in a game with a variety of them. And while not exactly playoff-like, it was an entertaining middleweight versus heavyweight fight that was productive for the road team.
The tying goal came from one of, if not the, least-likeliest source in Matt Martin, who took advantage of a Penguins change to cruise in and snipe a snapshot over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder. About 30 seconds later off a Frans Nielsen face-off win, Nikolay Kulemin won a tie-up along the boards, broke towards the slot and deked Kris Letang out of his pants to score his fourth goal of the season and give the Islanders the lead. Ryan Strome finished the flurry by tipping in a Thomas Hickey point shot for a 3-1 Islanders lead.
In accordance with the McNally Quatrains, the Penguins got one back thanks to old friend Blake Comeau. The ex-Islander completed a half-COZO and flung the puck to the slot from behind the net where it bounced off of Matt Martin. Chad Johnson was slightly out of position, having slid halfway to Cincinnati, which would be a theme of the evening.
In the second, good forechecking by Anders Lee led to the Islanders fourth goal. A touch pass to Strome was fed to Nick Leddy who crept in near the dots. Matt Martin had the temerity to bump Sidney Crosby and got a headbutt from Robert Bortuzzo for his troubles.
Until now, the Islanders had the edge in play and shots. But Nick Spaling's uncontested swipe at the rebound gave the Penguins life and made the game 4-3. Johnson was better to end the period - stopping a 2-on-1 and making a glove save on a Letang shot - but by the end of two, Pittsburgh led in shots and had tilted the ice their way.
The Penguins tied the game in the evenly-played third period on Patrik Hornqvist's shot through a screen. It was probably the only legit goal Johnson gave up all evening. The period ended with some acting from Evgeni Malkin after a Johnny Boychuk "cross-check," and John Tavares setting up Thomas Hickey for a re-direct that went over Fleury's net.
In overtime, Letang tried to stuff the puck behind Johnson, but it never crossed the goal line. Tavares had a shot to end it when he was left alone in the slot (!) but also missed.
Malkin missed wide in the shootout and Tavares' slowdown didn't fool Fleury. Crosby scored and Nielsen answered because that's what they do. Johnson stopped Sutter and Okposo won it for the Islanders with a few dekes and a shot just past Fleury's outstretched legs.
Two points and maybe a little relaxation for Saturday's rematch achieved.
This n' That
- Not to point a finger, but Johnson needed to be better than he was. He was noticeably out of position all night long which led to some hairy moments. Jack Capuano's gambit of starting his back-up in Part One of the home-at-home worked in the sense that the Islanders got the extra point. But while the team in front of him played well for the most part, that was not a confidence-inspiring performance from Johnson.
- And the Islanders did play well, despite a saggy second period. They shook off the opening goal to take control of the first. Only Johnson's wandering and an unfortunate bounce kept it from being even better. In the third, they also controlled more of the play, but couldn't break through. Hornqvist's shot through a screen was one of only seven for the Penguins in the third, half of what the Islanders had.
- Although he essentially scored an own-goal against (that was more bad luck and bad positioning than anything), I thought Matt Martin had a pretty good game. He scored, had a scrap, was active and generally kept play moving in the right direction. Almost like a guy who knows his playing time might be in jeopardy very soon.
- When Calvin deHaan went sliding into the boards near the end of the third period, you could hear all of Islanders County scream in unison, "NO! NOT THE SHOULDER!" He left for the locker room, but returned to play all of OT. Let's hope he's okay and his oft-repaired shoulders are fine.
- I'll happily take a well-played shootout win on the road with a back-up any day. That might be more about pride than points, but whatever.
- Halak awaits, which is good for the Islanders. But Penguins back-up Thomas Greiss is no slouch. Saturday night won't be a gimme, but it will be interesting to see how both teams fare 24 hours after playing 65+ minutes together.
- I'll be at the Coliseum to witness Game 2 and I'm terrified.