You may very well have given up on the New York Islanders multiple times in the first 40 minutes last night, as they went into a “must-win” kind of divisional game looking like they must nonetheless lose.
But somehow, they stuck around just enough to give them a chance despite a frustrating first 40 minutes, then they turned it on in the third to steal a 5-4 regulation win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It came via two goals each from Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, plus a game winner that Zach Parise juuust got a stick on (and was originally credited to Nelson for the hat trick, though Bryan Rust deserves equal credit).
That result brings the Islanders to a tie with the Penguins on standings points, though (we’re saying this for the 12th time this week) the Penguins have four games in hand. Both teams play again Saturday.
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First Period: All too familiar
If you thought this game would have playoff intensity, you’d have to wait a while, or accept it coming only from one side — or one side plus the officials, who were letting lots of marginal stuff go.
The Penguins controlled most of play in the first, and when Sidney Crosby got an “oh come ON!” goal by digging a loose puck out from underneath Ilya Sorokin, it just felt like that was how this was gonna go.
But two minutes later, at 13:56, Anders Lee tied it on a similar goal. This time the puck wasn’t hiding under the goalie, it was laying on top of him in plain sight. Casey DeSmith had snow angel’d and then lay tight on his back as he thought he had the puck covered. But it was sitting right there, on top of his pads, and Lee won the race to swat it in with a backhand.
Odd goal? Yup.— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 18, 2023
Good goal? Yup. pic.twitter.com/ZKhFVp912G
Second Period: Deflation, and Rebound
Multiple times it looked like the game was flying away from the Islanders, none more so than the opening minutes of the second period. Having escaped a first period tied 1-1 despite being outshot 18-8, the Islanders were completely dominated to begin the second.
The dam finally broke at 3:53 when Rickard Rakell made it 2-1, then Jason Zucker added to the lead less than two minutes later.
On Rakell’s goal, the Penguins had an unimpeded transit from blueline to blueline and in, with Rakell splitting the Islanders defense to deflect Jake Guentzel’s pass up over Ilya Sorokin’s shoulder.
Zucker’s goal came at the end of 1:20 of uninterrupted zone time by the Penguins, the Isles on the ice stationary with fatigue.
That prompted Lane Lambert to call a timeout, and the Islanders did show some life afterward, but it was nine minutes of mostly depressing hockey before Brock Nelson cracked a little bit of light, scoring his third wraparound goal of the season. He was launched into the Penguins zone with speed thanks to a great, diagonal pass from Scott Mayfield.
Rakell struck again four minutes after Nelson’s goal, however, and with just 1:03 left in the second period, it again felt like all was lost. The building was quiet. We were headed toward the second intermission with a daunting two-goal deficit while being outshot by a 2:1 margin.
But wait! The captain did it again. This time Anders Lee didn’t tee off from the goalie-pants tee, he deflected a Barzal shot after Barzal beautifully eluded old man Jeff Carter in the corner, then danced to the slot before sending his shot.
We're within 1! pic.twitter.com/ReVW6qWypE— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 18, 2023
That made it 4-3 with 27 seconds left in the period, sending the Isles to the dressing room with some hope.
Third Period: At last, the Islanders are here
Their backs against the wall but just a goal away from making something of this game, the Islanders finally showed up for real in the third.
It was a much better effort, and it even featured a power play goal! It came not from good zone control but from a good faceoff set play, with Brock Nelson drifting to the far circle after a faceoff win, then one-timing a Noah Dobson feed around a screen to the top far corner.
THIS GUY. pic.twitter.com/fTZjWNsZfW— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 18, 2023
The building was alive again, and the Isles pushed the play a bit like they knew a regulation win would surely be worth the effort.
It finally came with just under three minutes to go, from Parise. Sebastian Aho won a board battle, then Brock Nelson picked up the free puck and fed across the low slot for Parise. Rust got most of the puck, directing it toward the open net, but the follow-through of Parise’s attempt got enough of the puck to claim his 15th of the season.
Hustle play. pic.twitter.com/1frWAcfkMu— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 18, 2023
The game was delayed a bit due to hats thrown on the ice for what was initially thought to be Nelson’s goal, essentially giving the Penguins a free timeout.
But the Isles were good against the Penguins’ sixth attacker, and the final clear of the game drew a roar that this building hasn’t heard much in a while.
- The latest version of the top line, with Lee joining Bo Horvat and Barzal, looked good. A different look with Lee going to the net, while Barzal danced around to keep defensemen off balance and create opportunities.
- 40 saves for Ilya Sorokin. It wasn’t a stand-on-his-head performance — four goals allowed, too — but he was very busy.
- The latest callup Andy Adreoff got all of 5:47 in ice time and was minus-2.
- Nice outcome for Parise in his 1,200th NHL regular season game. He was hustling and buzzing as usual.
The Islanders are in Boston tomorrow for an early-ish start, 5 p.m. EST. It’s a busy weekend, but after considerable delay it’s off to the right start.