Robin Lehner made 41 saves in his first playoff start. Tom Kuhnhackl was 0-for-2 on goals subject to video review. The Islanders power play actually scored, and the Isles penalty kill suffered only one wound from the Penguins scary power play.
Game two is Friday, same place, same time. Gonna need a day to recover.
The Islanders Strike First. Except Not. Except Yes.
The Coliseum spirits were ready to provide a good home-ice start, with ex-Penguin Tom Kuhnhackl sniping a sweet shot 33 seconds into the game. Alas, the NHL’s energy-killing offside video review gremlins were having none of that — and in truth, as soon as Kuhnhackl crossed the blueline on a line change I thought it was offside.
I would like someone to ask Kuhnhackl whether his flat reaction to scoring was concern that it was offside, or shock that he, Tom Kuhnhackl, had just scored 33 seconds into the playoffs with a beauty of a shot.
It seemed like an easy call, but a lengthy review checked whether maybe Kuhnhackl did not touch the puck he pushed over the blueline until after Matt Martin got back on side.
No dice. They apparently saw it conclusive.
Still, the Coliseum spirits would not be deterred so easily. The Islanders got a second chance at an early 1-0 lead with good work from the Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle line. Eberle scored, holding the puck patiently before sliding under Matt Murray, to restore the 1-0 lead at 1:40, just over a minute after Kuhnhackl’s was waved off.
A Fortunate Break and an Equalizer
Robin Lehner’s first breathtaking stop came when he stretched out to stop a Patric Hornqvist tap-in at the top of the crease. Still, the Penguins equalized a little while later.
The Casey Cizikas line was getting lots of early action, and making itself felt, but they were victimized on the goal after Cizikas wiped out in the neutral zone. That allowed Dominic Simon a clean entry, and although Scott Mayfield pokechecked Simon high in the slot, it went right to an uncovered Phil Kessel, who beat Lehner clean to make it 1-1.
The Islanders definitely brought their physical game, making sure not to miss a chance to lay a check on any Penguin in sight.
Despite that, the first power play went to the Islanders — and even more shocking, the home team cashed in.
A Functioning Power Play?
Marcus Pettersson had gone off for an awkward trip on Cizikas behind the Penguins net. The Islanders actually worked the ensuing power play well, and Eberle used some nifty stickhandling below the circle to set up Brock Nelson for the go-ahead goal at the top of the crease.
Overall, the Islanders rode an energetic start to have the advantage in scoring chances, but the Penguins were peppering with low shots from wide angles and outshot the Isles 17-12. The Isles took their 2-1 lead into the intermission.
Special Teams Leveled
The second period was a bit of a mess, with the Islanders fully outchanced as well as outshot. They nearly held on to their lead, however, until the Penguins power play got its first strike of the series.
The Islanders enjoyed a second power play early in the period, with Kessel tripping up Valtteri Filppula on a neutral zone exchange. That one didn’t go as well, however, and its failure led to a cascade of events and shifts that ultimately led to the Penguins equalizer.
Barzal’s late pass back toward the blueline was deflected as the power play was ending, setting Kessel up for another golden opportunity. Lehner stood strong, with a stick-side save.
With some back-and-forth play that followed, the Isles were penalized on a fairly soft holding call on Leo Komarov.
The Islanders killed that one off, but right after Komarov came out of the box, there was a scrum to the side of Lehner. Mayfield and Evgeni Malkin — whom the Islanders no doubt want to irritate, a la Hamonic — both went to the box.
The Islanders held possession for most of the ensuing four-on-four, but it ended with Ryan Pulock taking a penalty for taking down Sidney Crosby. Then Malkin got his revenge, using ample time in the slot to send a shot that deflected up off Adam Pelech’s stick and past Lehner.
So it was 2-2 with just over six minutes to go in the period, and that was how things stood at the second intermission. Hold on tight.
Trotz has switched D pairs to Toews-Boychuk and Leddy-Mayfield— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) April 11, 2019
The Cizikas line opened the third with yet more energy and pressure. A few minutes later, they nearly struck gold with Matt Martin hitting the crossbar and Cal Clutterbuck just missing the rebound.
The physicality from both teams kept up, and the officials were sure giving the game a “let ‘em play” feel. The regular season standard is in the trash.
...and then you had one of those random things where they heard a boom and they made a call. Anders Lee and Erik Gudbranson were tangled up, with Lee on his knees, as they sped toward the end boards. Gudbranson had an ugly crash into the boards, but how they put that on Lee when both players were jockeying for position and balance is beyond me.
The fact they called it “boarding” is a tell of how they really had no idea what actually happened.
On the penalty kill, Lehner, Pelech and Clutterbuck were particularly strong — Lehner robbed Hornqvist point blank — and the Isles survived. Soon after, Brock Nelson had a two-on-one broken up by a sliding Brian Dumoulin, quite possibly preventing a goal that would have blown the roof off.
Not to worry, the roof would blow off in due time.
Anthony Beauvillier set a great screen, which Nick Leddy leveraged to pot his point shot in off the stick-side post and give the Islanders a 3-2 lead with 7:35 to go. On the next shift, the Cizikas line again came so so close to piling on with an insurance goal.
Nelson and Kris Letang were then each sent off unnecessarily, for typical post-whistle stuff, to put the teams at four-on-four with six minutes to go. On that one, Eberle made things interesting with a risky back pass during a line change, then Barzal had a golden wraparound look after Pettersson had lost him and his stick.
You get the feeling the Islanders are treating four-on-four veeerrrry carefully in this series, almost like they treat three-on-three OT: Keep possession first and foremost, don’t take any risks for Hail Mary offensive forays.
In any case, that set up a nailbiting final few minutes, and a Penguins equalizer. With Murray pulled for a sixth attacker, a Justin Schultz point shot was perfectly placed inside the post just like Leddy’s. With 90 seconds to go, the Isles lost their lead.
They nearly got it back and created bedlam when Clutterbuck set up Josh Bailey for a redirection...but instead they hit the post with just six seconds left.
Kuhnhackl began the overtime period yet again with a goal called off, though this one was an easier call, as he crashed the net (and Murray) and indeed the puck only crossed the line after the post came off. The call on the ice was no goal, and though they had a lengthy review, it was upheld.
That would not be the only review in the first five minutes of OT.
On a two-on-one with Eberle after a Letang fumble, Barzal did an absolute highlight reel rush into the zone, heel stop, and deke on Murray — who made a great stretching save to deflect the puck off the post. That left a low-angle rebound for Bailey — who was inches away from winning it with seconds left in regulation, remember — and the win was secured.
There was a brief scare as they checked for offside, but no. Not this time.
Islanders lead the series, 1-0. Back at it in a couple of days.