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Penguins 5, Islanders 4: Isles waste three comebacks to drop Game 3

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The Penguins take a 2-1 lead as the series intensifies with a crazy third period.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders - Game Three
Shake it off...if you can.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New York Islanders erased a two-goal third-period deficit but, continuing a gamelong pattern, they quickly gave up what they clawed back and ultimately lost Game 3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in regulation, 5-4.

The Penguins now take a dangerous 2-1 series lead, with Game 4 set for Saturday afternoon, also at Nassau Coliseum.

Three times the Islanders tied the score in Game 3, and three times they gave it right back in two-and-a-half minutes or less. Tough to win that way.

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

First Period: Not the start we asked for

The Islanders were hoping to get a better start to this one, but Kris Letang put an end to that hope just two minutes in. The Penguins sustained a good forecheck and cycle, and when Letang kept the puck in at the blueline, he had ample traffic in front to keep Semyon Varlamov from seeing it. Ryan Pulock fronted the shot and appeared to have it deflect downward off his leg, though official scorers at one point credited Zach Aston-Reese, who battled Pulock in front.

The Penguins were immediately gifted a chance to make it 2-0 when Kyle Palmieri was called for cruising too close behind Tristan Jarry — Brian Dumoulin helping to draw the call by shoving Palmieri into his goalie. But the Isles bent and ultimately didn’t break on that penalty kill.

On his next shift, Palmieri got into it with Dumoulin in front, exchanging high jabs and amping up the crowd.

Second Period: Further behind

Anthony Beauvillier had a clear breakaway a few minutes in, but Jarry appeared to get a piece of his stick-side shot.

The Isles caught a break when a botched breakout led to a Penguins too many men penalty...but was it a good break? The Islanders controlled the puck on the ensuing power play, but ultimately didn’t threaten too much. The Penguins boxed and positioned well, and the Isles were too methodical and reluctant.

That cleared the way for some slowed-down, back-and-forth territorial play, but the Islanders finally broke through at 11:03. Scott Mayfield, who misfires on many a lob-turned-icing, tapped into some brilliance by faking his defender with a toe-drag, then wristed upstairs over the shoulder of Jarry to tie it 1-1.

The Coliseum, which was buzzing from the get-go, hit another decibel.

But that energy boost did not last long, as two brilliant shots by Penguins players not only took the lead back, but doubled it.

The first came from Jeff Carter, on a fast transition 2:30 after Mayfield’s equalizer. Streaking down the right wing, Carter whipped a perfectly placed shot, mid-stride, off the far post to make it 2-1. Nick Leddy had stepped up and the Isles were slow to cover the counter.

Four and a half minutes later, with just two minutes left in the period, Jason Zucker made it 3-1. The Pens were moving cycling well against the Barzal line and the Leddy-Mayfield pairing, creating an opening for Zucker to take an inside route with the puck.

But even with that opening, it took an inspirational move by Zucker, who took his body to one side of Mayfield while moving his stick back to the other side to flutter a shot from an angle that Varlamov didn’t expect, nor even see, until it was too late.

Third Period: Chaos erupts

The Islanders had some enticing rushes from Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom early in the third but weren’t breaking through. That changed, however, when a jam in the corner broke the Islanders’ way.

John Marino had to leave the ice by rule when his helmet came off — helped, perhaps intentionally, by Matt Martin. That allowed the Isles to have an extra man long enough to win back control of the puck. Though Marino’s replacement, Cody Ceci, had arrived and was in position to prevent a goal, he turned away from Cal Clutterbuck for some reason. He may have thought the initial shot was headed to the corner, but regardless, Clutterbuck was left alone to slam in the rebound and make it 3-2.

That lifted the crowd, and the Isles. Even bigger eruptions were just around the corner.

At 5:35 a HUGE scrum ensued after Jarry smothered the puck, and everyone on the ice took exception to everyone else. In a rare officiating move, the referees actually called everyone on the ice for their infraction.

At the end of all the mayhem, Guentzel did a really stupid thing, skating up to Palmieri and slashing him as the Isles winger was being escorted to the box. That bit of idiocy gave Guentzel an extra minor, though — what, due to capacity? — the Penguins didn’t put an extra player in the box.

[Update: There was a lot of post-game discussion about this, and about Crosby escaping the box, after the game. This sort of maybe clarifies:

Anyway, everyone who had been on the ice save for the goalies ended up in the penalty box: Palmieri, J-G Pageau, Wahlstrom, Mayfield and Leddy for the Isles, and Crosby, Guentzel, Thanks to Guentzel, it also meant an Islanders power play, with Dumoulin in the box — as were Crosby and Kris Letang. We’ll take that trade.

The Isles got right to work on the power play, moving the puck quickly to finally by some space from the aggressive Penguins kill. Barzal found Anthony Beauvillier open on the right wing doorstep, and his shot attempt took a fortunate deflection off Ceci to go in and tie the game at 3-3.

Once again, it didn’t stay tied for long, and once again it was another Carter snipe that did the damage. He was aided by Cal Clutterbuck, who took a careless goalie interference penalty just 30 seconds after Beauvillier’s goal.

The Isles PK got disordered when Casey Cizikas wiped out on attempted clear, and the ensuing passing left Carter alone to turn on Varlamov in tight from the left wing side. He beat him short side this time, up high to make it 4-3. Just seven minutes into the third, it already felt like they’d played a third period and a half.

The Islanders had one more power play opportunity when Jared McCann got upset that Noah Dobson prevented a goal so he shoved him face first into the crossbar behind Varlamov. The face shield likely prevented serious damage. But the Isles couldn’t convert with the extra man.

We got past six minutes remaining and it was feeling uncomfortable, but there was yet more drama in store. Clutterbuck completed the hero-goat-hero trifecta by heading to the net and having Mayfield’s point shot go in off his body to tie the score at 4-4. Jarry made a half-hearted plea for goalie interference on Casey Cizikas, but the refs didn’t even bother. He’d stuck his paddle out into Cizikas’ path, and regardless it had no effect on his ability to make the save.

Tied again, 4-4...only for two more minutes.

The Penguins got the last laugh when a Letang point shot deflected off an Islander stick, popped up in the air, and Brandon Tanev knocked it in after waiting long enough for the puck to descend from high stick land.

The Isles had one more golden chance to tie it, but Sidney Crosby made a win-saving dive to deflect Brock Nelson’s shot up and out of play. Jarry was out of range, and it would’ve been a sure tying goal without Crosby’s reach.

The Isles pulled Varlamov for a sixth attacker and had decent zone time, but never really got a better chance to tie it one last time.

Game 4 is at the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.

The Varlamov Question

Are we worried about Varlamov? Carter’s shots were deadly, perfectly placed from a guy who’s done that his whole career — I don’t think Ilya Sorokin positions any better on those shots, for example. Some complained about Zucker’s but to me it was great deception. Still, five goals, that hurts. And Barry Trotz likely shared that reacton:

To me, “they scored four goals though” can’t be separated from “they were behind the whole game.” As in, this isn’t a team with four goals blowing leads thanks to the goalie, it’s a team that got four goals while playing desperate to get back in the game.

I’m not arguing for Varlamov here, just processing their options

Like any goalie, Varlamov can have lulls and then just as likely come back and be brilliant next game. (So too, of course, can Ilya Sorokin.) But it’s complicated by the fact Varly was held out due to some injury the final bit of the season, and in Game 1, which Sorokin of course won.

We don’t know the ins and outs of Varly’s form vs. health here. But it sounds like they’ll give it a very close examination, which is ultimately all I’m hoping for from the outside.

More Aftermath Bullets

  • Whatever the result, great to see — and hear — the Coliseum in playoff form like that. Man, and that’s at less than half capacity.
  • It’s an emotional game, sometimes that gets the best of you, and he had two goals. But damn, that Clutterbuck penalty right after the Isles had climbed back was such a killer.
  • I mocked Carter as an old man from the washed up Kings when the Penguins acquired him. Deep down, I knew the threat was real, but went for the cheap quip anyway. Karma.
  • Loved Palmieri’s game. He used his size so wisely and often. And I don’t know what he does to irritate the Penguins like he’s some Brock Nelson, but I like it.
  • Some riveting Isles comebacks, but overall the Penguins are getting what they want and dictating this series: High event, speedy transitions, trading chances rather than trading long portions of zone time where the Isles can numb you to the perimeter until you give up hope. And that’s without special teams determining any game thus far.