Last year, the New York Islanders acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the Trade Deadline, and while he fit the mold of what the Islanders needed, he struggled to produce in what was left of the regular season. But then, in the postseason, he exploded, scoring the first Islanders goal of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Islanders and recording eight more. He is a playoff player, and today, he showed that again as the Islanders downed the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 on the road.
But wait, there’s more: This year, the Islanders acquired Kyle Palmieri at the Trade Deadline. He, too, fit the mold of what the Isles needed, but he, too, struggled to produce through the end of the regular season. Another parallel: He scored the first Islanders' goal of the 2021 playoffs. Oh, and he went on to score the game-winner, too.
Don’t you love it when Trade Deadline pickups work out?
Semyon Varlamov had been expected to be ready for Game 1, but he did not dress. Instead, Ilya Sorokin got the crease, with Cory Schneider backing him up. It was the rookie’s playoff debut; opposite him, making his second-ever playoff start, was Tristan Jarry.
First Period: An Exciting Start
The game got off to a bit of a methodical start with the Penguins controlling the early run of play. Sorokin remained sharp. Just before the first commercial break, the game opened a tad, with Mathew Barzal and Leo Komarov escaping on a two-on-one, but the cross-ice pass was broken up.
Just after that first commercial break, though, the Islanders scored the game’s first goal. The Penguins tried to dump it into the corner but Jean-Gabriel Pageau cut it off and threw it ahead to Kyle Palmieri. He and Oliver Wahlstrom crisscrossed as they skated over the blue line, and Palmieri, off the rush, rifled a shot over the glove of Jarry.
Just over three minutes later, unfortunately, the Penguins evened the score. Pittsburgh hemmed the Islanders into their own zone, cycling it around. Evan Rodrigues took a shot from out high and it was blocked by Anthony Beauvillier. But the puck popped out to Freddy Gaudreau in the slot. He fired once and it was blocked by Josh Bailey. He recovered, found some space, and fired again through traffic, putting the puck over Sorokin’s blocker.
A little later, Brian Dumoulin attempted to get the puck down low, but Cal Clutterbuck blocked it at the blue line. Clutterbuck had a breakaway but missed the net due to the backchecking of Dumoulin.
Near the end of the period, the Islanders set up off the rush. Scott Mayfield threw a shot toward the net and Brock Nelson battled in front to get the puck across the crease to Beauvillier. It just hopped under Beauvillier’s stick and the puck went back the other way. Jake Guentzel entered on a breakaway but could not handle the puck enough to get a shot off. Sorokin swiped at the puck but caught Guentzel’s skates instead, sending the Penguins winger hard into the boards and earning Sorokin a tripping penalty, served by Beauvillier.
The puck did not leave the Islanders’ zone throughout the entire two minutes of power-play time. Mayfield, Clutterbuck, Adam Pelech, and Casey Cizikas did not get to change, and I do not think that any Penguins took one, either. But Sorokin came up huge to make up for taking a penalty, including a stunning skate-blade save on Sidney Crosby down low.
The period ended in a 1-1 tie, with the Pens outshooting the Isles 18-13 and getting to some high-danger areas. But the Islanders kept up the physicality that they displayed against the Boston Bruins last Monday evening.
Second Period: Mostly Penguins, with Some Islanders Sprinkled In at the End
Early in the second period, Bailey took a shot toward the front of the net and Beauvillier tipped it, but Jarry made the save. The puck went behind the net to Nelson, who had a wraparound try that Jarry just stopped.
Not to be outdone, Sorokin robbed a wraparound try, too. Marcus Pettersson shot from the point and Rodrigues tipped it. The puck came to Gaudreau off the save from Sorokin and the Isles’ goalie beat Gaudreau to the right post.
However, the Penguins maintained the pressure and kept shooting from the point. Eventually, it worked. Dumoulin wristed a shot from the point. Andy Greene worked on Crosby, but Crosby was able to get his stick on Dumoulin’s shot with one hand and beat Sorokin. Pittsburgh had its first lead of the game.
Not long after that, Pelech tripped up Kasperi Kapanen, sending the Islanders back on the penalty kill without one of their best penalty-killing defensemen. The Penguins had some zone time, but they did not hold the zone the entire two minutes as they did on their first opportunity. That one reflected the Isles’ penalty-killing prowess.
Teddy Blueger got hurt in a shift leading to a Pittsburgh icing. That allowed him to come off and Crosby to come on for him. Off the post-icing face-off, Crosby and Guentzel had a two-on-one against Ryan Pulock. Pulock defended Guentzel well, not allowing him to get off much of a shot. Sorokin kept the puck out of the net.
Clutterbuck cross-checked Crosby but appeared to take Crosby’s skate off of his leg. He struggled to get back to his feet. Shortly after that, Nelson pushed a puck out of the Isles’ zone and Jeff Carter high-sticked him. The Islanders went on their first and second power plays with the double-minor.
Off the first face-off, the Isles were able to set up. Bailey took a shot from the top of the right circle and the rebound kicked out to Palmieri in the bumper spot. Jarry made that save and the Penguins cleared the zone. They turned out to be the Isles’ only shots on the man advantage. After that, with the Islanders unable to enter the zone cleanly, the power play was quite ineffective.
Pens PK heavily shading on Wahlstrom, which should open up some other lanes. So far, it has not.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) May 16, 2021
That #Isles power play could have lasted eight minutes instead of four and result likely would have been the same. Oooof, still 2-1 Pens.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) May 16, 2021
Isles played in neutral zone and defensive zone as much as they did the Pens zone. Just brutal.
Late in the period, Carter tangled with Greene behind the Isles’ net and sent off Greene for interference. This penalty kill was excellent, and Pageau played a huge role in that. He chased down a clear that the Pens played lazily, recovering and giving the Isles possession to kill time. On his second shift of the kill, he and Komarov created a couple of high-danger shorthanded chances. Cizikas may have had a chance, as well.
The period ended with the Penguins up 2-1, which is probably a good thing for the Islanders. Pittsburgh controlled most of the second period pretty handily. That being said, the Islanders did have a decent push toward the end of the period.
Thru 2 and neither team has been trying very hard to score goals as of late pic.twitter.com/0lVhwLEzSx— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) May 16, 2021
Third Period: Islanders Carry Momentum from End of Second, but Let Pittsburgh Tie
The final frame started as methodical as the first one did, but the Islanders tied the game early. Pageau took a pass through the neutral zone from Mayfield and caught the Penguins changing. He skated over the blue line and wristed the puck high glove over Jarry. 2-2, folks.
PAGEAU, PAGEAU, PAGEAU, PAGEAU— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 16, 2021
PAGEAUUUUUUUU, PAGEAU!! pic.twitter.com/oYJfYqOypR
The goal gave the Islanders some life, and they had a few beautiful chances. Beauvillier and Bailey combined for a give-and-go down low that may not have reached the net, but it was close. Shortly after, Barzal and Jordan Eberle had some open ice with which to work, with Komarov jetting to the front of the net, but a Penguins’ defender blocked Barzal’s initial try and Jarry got the second effort. Also, shortly before this flurry, Dumoulin blocked a Pulock blast with the top of his skate, temporarily knocking him out of commission.
Near the end of the period, Nelson and Beauvillier created a really dangerous chance that Beauvillier could not convert. On the very next rush, Beauvillier gave it to Nelson over the blue line, and Nelson wristed a puck through Jarry from distance. The Islanders had a brief 3-2 lead.
Thirty-one seconds later, though, Carter dropped it off to Kapanen coming over the blue line and the crisscross threw off Mayfield and Greene. Mayfield gave Kapanen too much space and Sorokin did not come out far enough to cut off the angle, allowing Kapanen to bank it in off the far post.
The Penguins’ goal woke them back up and they nearly took the lead when Crosby knocked over Pelech and drove to the front of the net, putting it high. The Islanders also almost took the lead back off a rush where both Bailey and Pageau got hard shots on Jarry.
Bailey, then Pageau denied by Jarry inside of two minutes left. No one wants to lock this one down.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) May 16, 2021
But the period ended tied 3-3. The Islanders played much better in the third period than they had all game.
Overtime: Cautious Play Favors the Islanders
It was slow-starting in overtime, but Barzal had a breakaway. He got around Mike Matheson and Jared McCann swiped away the puck on the backcheck. Barzal was hurting getting up from the play, but no penalty was called.
After that, the game tightened up a bit with both teams playing cautiously. Among the chances was Greene at the top of the left circle that was blocked by Cody Ceci and Eberle and Barzal racing into the Pens’ zone on a two-on-two, with Kris Letang getting a stick on Eberle’s shot.
By the midpoint break, the Islanders and Penguins played their longest OT game ever.
After the midpoint break, Pageau stripped the puck from Matheson and fed Beauvillier flying up the middle, but Jarry blocked the puck.
With about five minutes left, Jeff Carter caught a high flip and sneaked behind Pulock and Noah Dobson, forcing Sorokin to make a tough save.
After an Isles’ icing, the Penguins’ first line controlled the zone against the Islanders’ fourth line. Sorokin covered the puck after Bryan Rust got a stick on it, and then Rust shoved Pelech onto a vulnerable Sorokin and drawing the attention of Matt Martin.
The game looked destined for a second overtime, but the third line made sure the Islanders got the win before we reached it. Pageau dug the puck out of the corner and got it to Palmieri. The puck was bouncing, but Palmieri managed to corral it and squeeze the puck in a tight window off of and over Jarry’s shoulder. Brendan Burke, doing the game for NBC, had the call and sounded extra excited about it being the team that he covers.
Watch Palmieri pick this corner in slow-mo, too.
OT WINNER— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 16, 2021
OT WINNER pic.twitter.com/HpBCCgbSci
And it’s always good to see the players and coaches at the bench react to an overtime winner.
Notes and Thoughts
Pageau, last year’s Trade Deadline acquisition, and Palmieri, this year’s Trade Deadline acquisition, were easily the best players of the game for the Islanders. Pageau had a goal and two assists and Palmieri scored twice. It was only fitting that they combined for the game-winner.
Three-point game for Pageau, far and away #Isles best player today. Palmieri (2g) a close second.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) May 16, 2021
Lou knows, apparently.
- The Islanders probably will have to make a couple of adjustments going into Game 2 to have a better start. Barry Trotz said that in the postseason, a team is going to have to withstand pushes. The problem was that through the first two periods, the Penguins had quite a few pushes—arguably, more than they should have been allowed to have.
- That being said, what made Pittsburgh so effective early in the game was that the Penguins did not allow the Islanders to forecheck much. By the third period and into overtime, the Islanders got back to their forecheck and it should come as no surprise that that was when they controlled the game. The long and short of it: The Islanders need to forecheck to be effective. And they figured out how to get back to it by the end of the game; they need to hold onto that for next time.
- Sorokin played strongly and the Islanders benefitted from a few weak goals conceded by Jarry. Even though the Islanders were down to their backup, they held the advantage. However, I hope that Varlamov is good to go for the next game, even if Sorokin starts because Schneider has not played NHL hockey in well over a year.
Game 2 will be Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. That one will be on NBCSN nationally and MSG+ locally. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. ET. It figures to be fun.