Frankly this one was a battle of goaltenders, and Semyon Varlamov’s slow start was enough to sink an otherwise fantastic performance in Game 2. Tristan Jarry rebounded well from getting his glove side lit up in Game 1, though Pittsburgh also played better defensively and took advantage of a sloppy Islanders performance, especially from the defense. A lot of missed passes, flubbed pucks, and poor clearances limited the Isles’ ability to break out, and those kinds of mistakes are series changers.
That said, Varlamov’s ability to bounce back after giving up a clunker is impressive, and going on to save 43 shots can’t be underrated. That kind of goaltending wins playoff games, especially if the Isles can take advantage of Jarry’s inexperience and inconsistency.
Just 3 minutes in, Ryan Pulock flubbed a pass outside the blue line, letting Bryan Rust pick up the puck and get into the zone, where he flung a shot at Varlamov that had no business going in... but it did. A real bad one from Varly, and even though he recovered well, it seemed to still have the Islanders rattled, with the Pens applying a ton of pressure this period while the Isles looked tentative at best for long stretches.
The Pageau line nearly got a goal back when Jarry got out of position, but no one was around to put the puck in and it just went across the crease.
Beauvillier and Nelson got on a 2 on 1 but Beau held onto the puck for way too long and ran out of room.
Then, Jeff Carter made it 2-0 when Ryan Pulock lost him out front and he had a ton of time and space to beat Varlamov easily.
Casey Cizikas had a good chance after Scott Mayfield maybe kept the puck in on the blue line, but Jarry made the stop, and at the other end Varlamov made good saves on Evan Rodrigues and Jake Guentzel to keep the score close.
The Isles had a good chance early when a Ryan Pulock tipped shot made its way to Jarry, who made the save on that, too. Oliver Wahlstrom went to the box for tripping, and the highlight of the game thus far for the Isles was the penalty kill, where the Isles looked more threatening offensively than they did at even strength.
The Penguins didn’t really lose much momentum from their bad power play though, as Varlamov had to make a solid stop on a Cody Ceci attempt after some Pens pressure.
Wahlstrom went back to the box for a completely phantom penalty, a roughing call for touching Jake Guentzel. Given what had gone uncalled to that point, it was a total joke, and also kind of unbelievable that the Isles never really got a makeup call for it, either.
The Isles killed that penalty, too, and then Wahlstrom would make his third and final trip to the box for roughing, along with Kris Letang. The two of them got into it after Palmieri bumped Jarry, creating a big scrum behind the net.
The momentum definitely went the Isles’ way after that, with Josh Bailey scoring to make it 2-1 off a great backhand shot that beat Jarry.
Shortly after, Tanev dove for a loose puck and ran right into Varlamov, hitting his head against the post and drawing a huge crowd. Matt Martin and Zach Aston-Reese grabbed each other and separated from the group, and both went to the box for roughing.
There were a couple of good chances for both sides after that, with the Penguins missing out on a 2 on 1 when Freddie Gaudreau passed back to Kasperi Kapanen, who was... not actually there.
Beauvillier had a good chance to tie the game, but his shot hit Jarry under the mask.
Pageau broke up a Pens 3 on 2, and then finished his check on Brian Dumoulin, sending him hard into the boards. The ref stopped play because Dumoulin looked to be injured, but he got up under his own power, only briefly left the game, and then retuned and played the rest of the game.
Leo Komarov created a turnover that eventually led to an Eberle backhand, but Jarry made that save.
The Isles had to hustle defensively when Adam Pelech pinched in and took a weak shot that was blocked, sending the Penguins the other way. Cal Clutterbuck got in the way and the Isles were lucky not to get scored on there.
Varlamov again kept the Isles in it, making good stops on Guentzel and Rust, and Barzal was hounded by Kapanen on a partial breakaway and couldn’t get a good enough shot away on a solid attempt to tie the game.
Guentzel nearly made it 3-1 with a shot that Varlamov was just barely able to stop underneath him, preventing it from crossing the goal line.
Cizikas set up a great shot for Matt Martin, who then shot it wide.
With time running down, the Isles pulled Varlamov for the extra skater. With a minute and a half left, Rust would head to the box, giving the Isles their only power play of the night, on a rulebook penalty, as he completely closed his hand around the puck and threw it out of the zone. Unfortunately, the Isles couldn’t get much going on the 6 on 4, and dropped the game 2-1, as Pittsburgh tied the series 1-1.
- The Leo Komarov LW1 experiment has to end. I don’t know who becomes Barzal’s winger, but he’s just not capable of doing enough offensively to stop the Penguins from just focusing entirely on Barzal and Eberle and ending up successful on any given shift against that line. Maybe with Trotz in control of line matching he can get them away from the tougher competition, but Barzal just can’t get anything done with just one winger.
- What happened to the defense? Even Pelech and Pulock are looking bad out there. A lot of sloppy passes and braindead decisions from all six defensemen tonight. Just can’t be turning it over like that constantly.
- Things were really chippy tonight, with some guys even getting under Crosby’s skin at times. Honestly, I think that bodes well for the Isles, who are certainly more than capable of playing and excelling at that game.
I think this is the largest (and therefore loudest) crowd the Isles have played against since March of 2020, with about 9,000 fans in attendance. While the fan presence is probably a bit overrated, just the general change in the environment can play a big role in boosting a team. Hopefully the Coliseum, with increased capacity, can give a boost to the Isles, as they certainly have the opportunity to gain a significant series lead on home ice as we go back to Long Island for Game 3 on Thursday.