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Islanders 4*, Penguins 3 (*SO): Nail-biter ends with Isles in a playoff spot

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This one was extremely exciting, in my opinion, and I’m happy with the result of two points.

NHL: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins
My beautiful boy was on fire tonight.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With the Islanders caught in a battle royale for the second wild card, Jaroslav Halak was resurrected from the AHL and started his first game in the NHL since December 29 against the Wild.

Ryan Strome suffered a broken wrist in Wednesday’s contest against the Rangers, and while he thankfully doesn’t need surgery to repair it, he will be out the next 3-6 weeks. Tonight, Alan Quine took his spot. Dennis Seidenberg remained a healthy scratch as the defense stayed the same.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

First Period

The boo-birds were out for Joshua Ho-Sang early on in Pittsburgh, but he seemed to thrive off it - in the early part of the game, amid the boos, he was integral in generating around 40 seconds of offensive zone time, both beginning the play rushing in and then keeping the puck in play for the Isles.

After killing off a Nikolay Kulemin penalty, it was Scott Mayfield’s turn to maintain offensive zone time. For a big, lumbering, seemingly unskilled/not athletic enough player, he sure seems to be able to retrieve the puck and get it toward the net, or at least to a teammate to set up offensive play.

They looked to have scored a goal as time came to a close, with Jason Chimera executing a gorgeous spin-o-rama pass to a swooping Brock Nelson. Unfortunately, Chad Ruhwedel pushed Quine into Marc-Andre Fleury, and Mike Sullivan successfully challenged the goal for goalie interference - much to Doug Weight’s fury.

Second Period

Cameron Gaunce, one of the call-ups to replace the battered Penguins, snuck a point shot short side past Halak on a shot for which he may have been screened. At least I’d hope that’s what it was, because it was pretty ugly.

Nelson, clearly angry about his non-goal at the end of the first, took a sweet Ho-Sang drop pass and sniped it over the shoulder of Fleury.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal on what looked almost like an offside - Lee was over the blue line as Josh Bailey began to carry in, which is what Mike Sullivan challenged (again). Weight, already ticked off from the challenge last period, stormed down the tunnel during the review. But, as the puck crossed the line, Lee lifted his skate and Bailey let the puck glide, putting them onside. Anthony Beauvillier sent a pass to Lee in the slot for a wonderful goal to put the Isles ahead.

A point shot that likely would have been a routine save for Halak was instead blocked by Calvin de Haan. The rebound off de Haan ricocheted right to Sidney Crosby at the hashmarks, who wasn’t missing on that one-timer.

John Tavares is a treasure for whom we should all be thankful. In the dying seconds of the period, he forced the puck away from Ruhwedel near the Pens blueline and battled with him to retrieve the puck before sliding the puck over to Casey Cizikas in front of the net to give the Isles a 3-2 lead to end the frame.

Kulemin was lost at some point this period. Before the Lee goal, according to Arthur Staple.

Third Period

The kiddie combo of Beauvillier and Ho-Sang have been working well together, exemplified by a beauty of a near-goal. Ho-Sang was manhandled twice off the puck but still managed to recover twice in the corner, and threw a blind backhand pass right to Beauvillier near the crease, who spun all the way around and nearly beat Fleury.

Ian Cole cross-checked Beauvillier for the Isles first power play, and while the first unit was pretty dull, the second unit, headlined by Ho-Sang, has been, well, electric:

He, alone, helped to generate about 4-5 shooting chances. It’s not even his skill for making slick passes - he’s like a magnet on the puck. I feel like he’s always the first one to it. Eye test disclaimer on that, though.

Nelson and Adam Pelech allowed Gaunce to just waltz in on Halak, and his rebound popped out to Matt Cullen, who slammed it home.

Overtime

The Islanders top 3-on-3 unit of Tavares, Bailey (no Ho-Sang :( ) and Leddy stayed on the ice for nearly two minutes, between being unable to clear the zone and Halak tossing away two easy covering opportunities.

There was also very nearly a goal that Halak kept out of the net and I have absolutely no idea how. The play was under review, but nothing was conclusive enough to overturn the call on the ice of no goal. The Isles were probably okay with the review with 1:59 left of OT - up to that point, the Penguins were dominating the extra frame.

The last two minutes of OT were heart-attack-inducing as well, but the Isles managed to survive long enough for the shootout.

Shootout

Beauvillier went first in the shootout and scored stick side with a sexy move, and after Halak stopped the first Pens shooter, Tavares scored stick side as well. Crosby snapped one past Halak, and after Ladd was interrupted by a sprawling Fleury, Halak stonewalled Bonino to give the Isles two points.

Quick Thoughts/What’s Next

Halak looked a tad shaky, but I probably would too if my return to the NHL was this vaunted (though injured) Pittsburgh squad. Would’ve been nice to get the ROW, but Boston already had three more than us coming into tonight: if we’re gonna beat them out for a spot, it’s gonna be on points. Two points tonight - and a return to the playoff spot - are very big going into tomorrow’s home game against the Bruins. We hold a game in hand on them, and if we can manage to squeeze a regulation win out of tomorrow’s game, we’d be primed for a playoff position.

Two straight wins in extremely nerve-wracking games, but I’ll take that all the time. See y’all tomorrow.