The New York Islanders entered the night with a chance to clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff series on Nassau Coliseum ice for the first time since Game 6 of the 1993 Patrick Division Semifinal. Despite falling behind three times in the first 22 minutes of the game, they got it done.
The Islanders came back each time that the Pittsburgh Penguins took a lead tonight before opening up a lead of their own and never letting go of it. The second line was spectacular tonight, Ilya Sorokin made all the stops he needed to make when the Isles grabbed the lead, and the Islanders are moving on to the second round of the playoffs.
Oliver Wahlstrom did not take the ice for warm-ups, so we knew early that he would not be playing. Travis Zajac entered in his stead.
First Period: My Heart Cannot Take This
The Penguins got on the board only a minute and a half into the period. Jordan Eberle picked the pocket of Kasperi Kapanen down low in the Penguins’ zone and Noah Dobson pinched in to receive a pass. Unfortunately, the pass did not get through, and Kapanen and Jeff Carter escaped on a two-on-one when Anthony Beauvillier could not scramble back in time. Carter, the open man, took Kapanen’s pass and deposited the game’s first shot behind Ilya Sorokin.
The Islanders responded about five minutes later, though. Josh Bailey redirected a Pittsburgh pass on which Kris Letang pinched, pushing the puck up to Brock Nelson for a two-on-one for him and Beauvillier. Beauvillier displayed his stunning knack for executing the Danish Backhand of Judgment, roofing it over Tristan Jarry’s glove.
BEAU TIES IT ALL UP— x - Isles on MSG+ Tonight (@IslesMSGN) May 26, 2021
WE IN THIS pic.twitter.com/CBJQpLWScf
Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle had a two-on-one. Barzal fed Eberle, and Eberle bobbled the puck a bit. He spun around and was able to get a backhand on Jarry. The rebound popped over to Barzal, who waited for Jarry to dive out to shoot, but Cody Ceci got his stick on it.
Evgeni Malkin laid out Matt Martin, and Scott Mayfield followed right behind to crush Malkin. But Mayfield received a cross-checking penalty for his efforts, and the Penguins converted. A missed clear by Andy Greene allowed the Pens’ first unit to keep the puck in the zone, and Jake Guentzel fired a shot from the bumper spot. It hit Ryan Pulock’s skates, slowing it down and changing its direction to sneak through Sorokin.
Again, though, the Islanders responded quickly. Jean-Gabriel Pageau picked off a pass by the Penguins bench and skated over the blue line near the penalty boxes. With Zajac and Kyle Palmieri crashing the net, Pageau threw it at Jarry. His rebound bounced out to Palmieri, and the puck kicked off his skates and stick and into the back of the net just 1:13 after Guentzel’s goal.
BUCKLE UP— x - Isles on MSG+ Tonight (@IslesMSGN) May 26, 2021
We are tied AGAIN
Palmieri evens it up pic.twitter.com/XI2Uu1vWJS
Nick Leddy had a rough couple of plays in the second half of the period. First, he sent an outlet pass right to Jared McCann, but Sorokin bailed him out. Then, Kapanen danced around him and had a wide-open net in which to slide the puck, but Travis Zajac, skating from behind the net, caught it and threw it away.
Zajac with the clutch save pic.twitter.com/OtyUzrh1rT— x - Isles on MSG+ Tonight (@IslesMSGN) May 26, 2021
Second Period: Back and Forth, and Forth, and Forth
For the second straight period, the Penguins struck early. Ceci flung a shot from the point that Jason Zucker deflected over Sorokin. Greene failed to box him out, leaving him to swing freely at Ceci’s shot.
Mayfield leveled Brandon Tanev with a huge reverse hit, and it seemed to remind the Islanders to play physically. As the Islanders found their game, they tied the game once again.
Beauvillier entered the zone with possession up the middle and dished over to Bailey on the right wall. Bailey saw Nelson cutting up the opposite wing and gave him a perfect slap pass that Nelson. All Nelson needed to do was hold firm on his stick to put the puck in the toy department.
Thirteen seconds later, the Islanders took their first lead of the night. Zajac won an offensive zone face-off back to Pulock, who fired the cannon past Jarry’s glove. It did not appear that Jarry saw it.
And less than three minutes after the Islanders took the lead, they extended it to two goals on Nelson’s second goal of the period. Beauvillier picked up the puck in his own zone and turned around to head north. He entered the zone and dropped it off to Nelson. Nelson floated in deep untouched and flung a wrist shot that sneaked through Jarry’s five-hole. 5-3 Islanders and the Penguins had to take a timeout to calm themselves down.
Nelson's 2nd of the game! pic.twitter.com/sbvB8utIps— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 27, 2021
Nelson nearly had a hat-trick on a breakaway, but he missed just wide. The misfire sent Malkin on a breakaway of his own, but Sorokin came up huge to get the save and many chants.
Desperation set in for the Penguins as the period wore on and things started to get chippy. Sidney Crosby checked Casey Cizikas from behind facing only numbers but was not penalized.
Off the very next face-off, though, Pulock went in toward the boards to battle Guentzel along the boards. Guentzel’s helmet came off and he clutched his face like he was elbowed, so Pulock was sent off for elbowing. Funny thing is, Pulock never elbowed him. His glove caught Guentzel up high.
The Islanders killed off the first half of the penalty as the period ended and Leo Komarov explained to Guentzel how he thinks that he is the cat’s meow.
Third Period: Win a Period, Win a Game and a Series
The Islanders killed off the remaining half of Pulock’s minor, though not before Crosby rang the puck off the post. As Pulock exited the box, Komarov gave him a hard pass to try to spring him on a breakaway, but the hard pass missed.
The resulting dump-in was recovered by Pittsburgh, but whoever recovered it threw it off of Jarry’s pads and it caromed out to the Isles’ second line. Nelson, wide-open, fired a one-timer and just missed. Barzal, on the next shift, boogied around a Penguins defenseman and put his shot off Jarry’s mask.
Around the midway point of the period, Beauvillier stole a puck in the neutral zone and drove toward the net. He was tripped up but he did not draw a penalty, somehow.
However, the story of the third period was the push of the Penguins, especially early on. Coach Mike Sullivan started loading up his lines here and there. But in the Pens’ desperation came mistakes, and John Marino high-sticked and drew blood on Matt Martin with 4:44 remaining.
The Penguins attempted to generate offense while killing a double-minor, but they could not get anything going in the Isles’ zone long enough to pull Jarry until there was only a minute left in the game. The Islanders had the second line on the ice and tried a few times to let Nelson get the hat trick, but the Penguins prevented it. They could not prevent the loss, though, and the Islanders won the game, 5-3, and the series, 4-2.
Hell of a series, if I do say so myself pic.twitter.com/WJ8XhZGX5w— Mollie Walker (@MollieeWalkerr) May 27, 2021
Fans at the Coliseum are chanting "We want Boston!"— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) May 27, 2021
Notes and Thoughts (and Feelings!!!)
- Both teams appeared a bit shaky to start the game, hence the wide-open play. The crowd noise and the moment seemed to have an effect—they’re human, after all. That led to the back-and-forth we saw tonight. Check out these expected win percentage swings.
The swings of the playoffs pic.twitter.com/CEXrg21Xb4— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) May 27, 2021
- Sorokin also seemed just a bit shaky early in the game, though the goals he conceded were not really his fault. But once the Isles took the two-goal lead, he settled in nicely. It will be interesting to see who starts Game 1 in Boston. My money would be on Sorokin.
- The second line was juiced tonight. They have shown consistently that they have the stones to excel in the playoffs. They really raise their game at this time of year, which is not easy to do.
- Barzal played really well on his birthday, too. He did not get the points, but he definitely could have had a couple.
- Zajac looked hungry stepping into the lineup for the first time in the playoffs. That saved goal will go down in history.
- It is always fun to beat the Penguins and their entitled fans, but especially so in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see what they do in the offseason. Not our problem, though!
- The crowd was incredible tonight. If you were there, thank you for your service.
- I love this team.
- Ralph Macchio does, too.
And now, the Islanders are shipping up to Boston. They will be on the road to take on the Boston Bruins in Game 1. We do not yet know when that will be, but you guys will be the first to know when we do. Let’s go Islanders!