By the end of the season in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division, tonight could be seen as a crucial point saved, or inches away from stealing all two.
The New York Islanders salvaged one point — and avoided losing two consecutive in regulation for the first time all season — thanks to a late third-period, two-goal comeback before falling to the Penguins Penguins, 4-3 in overtime.
As they have been recently, special teams told part of the story: The Islanders were 0-for-4 (with seven shots) on the power play, while the Penguins converted both of their power plays (on three shots).
But the game still came down to three-on-three overtime’s chaotic coin flip, which once again was not short on entertainment.
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The first period was all Pittsburgh, but yielded only a 1-0 Penguins lead on a goal by Jake Guentzel.
The second period was all New York, but yielded just one goal, a messy equalizer by Jordan Eberle after Penguins Nation (at least based on the forensic analysis of their, um, “regarded” broadcasting crew) no doubt felt Eberle should face life imprisonment after an inadvertent collision with Sidney Crosby’s head.
The “controversy,” if you can call it that, came five minutes into the second period. Eberle, with his eyes on the puck across the ice, tried to squeeze between a stickless Crosby and an Isles teammate. Crosby, with his eyes looking back behind the play (perhaps assessing whether he could sneak to the bench for a stick or change), did one of those neutral zone turns that can cause inadvertent car wrecks like this.
Here’s the sequence, with the goal that followed, though oddly omitting Crosby pretty clearly roughing Eberle in the middle of the sequence:
At least in the “u mad online bro?” sphere, I saw tons of third-party viewers agree that was just an unfortunate, inadvertent collision. But you know Pens fans.
To twist the knife, Brian Dumoulin had broken his stick on a poke in the Penguins zone, which is why Crosby was without a stick. Crosby handed his to Dumoulin and as the Isles re-entered the zone, Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock combined to leave Crosby exposed, combining to set up the sequence that Eberle finished. The puck fell to the side of the Penguins net and Carl Hagelin tried to inadvertently freeze it. The refs weren’t buying, and Eberle poked a two-inch shot home.
Ebs going to the greasy areas to tie it up!— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 8, 2017
1-1 #LGI pic.twitter.com/EGDG4smuvF
Kris Letang leveled Eberle after the goal, probably as payback for that collision with Crosby, but fortunately for the Isles the refs did not see fit to give their power play another look as a consequence.
(The Isles would get two power plays later in the period, and get too cute with them.)
The way the Islanders played the rest of the period, it looked like they might get the go-ahead goal. Then came intermission and yet another reset to expectations.
Third Period: Craziness
Is it possible for two teams to play to get to the part of the game where both teams play to get to OT? The first seven minutes of the third period was a rather boring slog, filled with icings and neutral zone punts back and forth.
Then things got crazy.
A tripping penalty that Scott Mayfield objected to but probably deserved but the Penguins to work on the power play, where they did what the Islanders could not: set up clean looks and actually take the shot. The worst possible player to get that clean look, Phil Kessel, was of course the one who got it. He dragged to get a lane under Adam Pelech’s stick and beat Halak top glove corner.
That was at 7:29, and the arena was still announcing Kessel’s goal when things looked like they were hopeless. A Josh Ho-Sang pass back to Ryan Pulock at the Penguins blueline had too much heat and bounce, sending the puck all the way back into the corner to the left of Halak.
Halak played it, too patiently with speedy Carl Hagelin in pursuit. That allowed Riley Sheahan to intercept and catch Halak off his line, converting into the top stick-side corner for a two-goal lead. With a 3-1 deficit and 12 minutes to go, things looked bleak, especially after Kessel was stopped on another open chance and a two-on-one with Evgeni Malkin.
Enter Mathew Barzal.
It took seven minutes, but with five minutes remaining in regulation Barzal took a Scott Mayfield “pass” in the slot — more of a “here, let me take that for you and show you what you mean to do” — and slipped a goal low through Tristan Jarry.
And we've got a game thanks to @Barzal_97! #LGI pic.twitter.com/4FiQYZjQZP— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 8, 2017
That provided a glimmer of hope, and the Islanders continued to pressure on into sixth attacker time. A Josh Bailey pass found John Tavares with a wide open net...but like Ho-Sang’s pass to Pulock it bounced past and away.
But the Isles kept it up, and finally Brock Nelson found a wobbly rebound of an Andrew Ladd shot and lifted it over an outstretched Jarry. Tie game, with just 70 seconds to go.
Two goals in the final five minutes and we're going to OT! #LGI pic.twitter.com/DfGDfBqnXo— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 8, 2017
The Islanders actually almost then completely stole things in regulation as a point shot hit bodies and slid tantalizingly through the crease, only to bump against Jarry’s right post.
OT was only 89 seconds, but still contained much of the chaos 3-on-3 provides. Barzal poke-checking Kris Letang but then losing his footing as he tried to beat Jarry to the loose puck, then sliding ont he ice and knocking the goal frame way off the moorings, allowing a 3-on-2 the other way.
The Penguins whiffed on the ensuing rush, and Barzal’s attempt to get back into the play ended with him essentially headbutting Tavares in the chin at speed as both tried to get that lose puck. (Or, to interpret that by Pens fan standard: Barzal clearly delivered a headshot on our franchise captain.)
More exchanges like that had Halak making a save and launching a Hail Mary for Josh Bailey, who caught up with the puck in the Penguins zone and made a decent move for Jarry’s five-hole that the rookie stopped with the blade of his stick.
Matt Hunwick finally ended things — had it really only been 1:29 of OT? Le pant, le pant... — off another goalmouth scramble where he just outmuscled Ho-Sang enough to slide a slow winner inside the post.
The goal was reviewed for potential goalie interference, but there was none. It was just your common 3-on-3 pond affair.
The four-game road trip concludes Saturday in Boston. Thus far they have a shootout win, an ugly regulation loss, and this OT loss. Two points Saturday would make it a better-than-.500 trip.
Which, well it’d be nice and almost necessary, since tonight’s OTL puts the Isles, Penguins, Capitals and Blue Jackets all tied at 35 points in the high-octane Metro, which the Devils lead with 36.