Man, it’s a special kind of joy when the Islanders frustrate the hell out of the Penguins.
But Thursday night’s 4-3 overtime win had particularly delicious flavor, completing a 4-0 season sweep with their third consecutive third-period comeback win over the Penguins in the past month.
The funniest irony of all is that the Islanders were mostly outplayed in these three games, such that it defies logic that they’d emerge victorious from each one. On Thursday, they struggled through two periods and things seemed potentially out of reach as they reached the 14:00 mark of the third still trailing by two goals.
But knowing how the previous meetings had gone, there was still that kernel of hope...and sure enough, it happened again.
Trailing 3-1, the Islanders ended up scoring twice in the final 5:29, including the tying goal from Anders Lee with a sixth attacker and 1:15 left on the clock. In overtime, they had two, all-too-rare clear-cut breakaways, with Kyle Palmieri stopped on the backhand. Brock Nelson’s breakaway won it — after he nearly blew it by missing coverage in the Isles zone — helped by Ilya Sorokin breaking up a pass from behind the net headed toward Nelson’s man.
The win keeps the Isles in the first wild card slot, and extends their lead over the Penguins to two points. Somehow, they keep rolling, even in games where they don’t quite have it.
Opening: A Refreshing Power Play Goal
The first period was a frustrating one, though it began on a decently high note. After surviving some early scrambles around Ilya Sorokin, the Islanders got the first power play after Evgeni Malkin threw one of his random body checks on Pierre Engvall, who did not have the puck.
The first power play unit executed a sweet combo for the opening goal at 5:23. Brock Nelson rimmed a dump-in down the left wing, Kyle Palmieri made a one-touch, between-the-legs retrieval off the boards to Bo Horvat, then Anders Lee finished after Horvat picked up his own rebound and fed back to Lee.
Apparently the Islanders prefer to play from behind against the Penguins though, because the rest of the period did not go their way. Jake Guentzel tied it halfway through, and Jason Zucker gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead late as all five Islanders occupied the house but defended no one.
Second Period: Hand in glove
The Isles were outshot 13-7 in the first, and the middle period was no better. The Isles killed two power plays — and survived one very lengthy delayed penalty that was practically a power play in itself. But they cut could not dodge an odd high deflection by a man who goes by Josh Archibald, who gave the Penguins a deflating 3-1 lead.
It appeared to hit Archibald’s glove, knocking the puck down below the crossbar, but the league war room must’ve deemed it an innocent kind of deflection. (On the broadcast, they said it wasn’t something that could be challenged by the coach.)
Lane Lambert said he was looking at the door situation on Pens' third goal and it was a challengeable situation. But he didn't see enough evidence to be sure he'd win challenge and didn't want to give up a PP.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) March 10, 2023
Again, the Isles have been strong in third periods again lately, showing a refreshing persistence and belief that they never give up. So even as time was starting to wind down with the two-goal deficit, the way the Islanders were playing held out some hope. Fitting that it was the recent energy duo of Hudson Fasching and Casey Cizikas who lit the spark.
Fasching finished a pretty give-and-go with Cizikas to make it 3-2 with 5:29 left. After gaining the zone and passting, Fasching crossed behind Cizikas and eluded his check; he took the pass off his skate and deposited it behind Tristan Jarry, who uncharacteristically gave the Islanders no direct passes in this game.
Next, the Isles pulled Ilya Sorokin early to go for the equalizer. After some decent Isles pressure, Jeff Carter intercepted a pass at the blueline, but then batted it down with a high stick that sent him on what would’ve been an empty net goal if it hadn’t been whistled.
That set the stage for one more push, and Noah Dobson’s point shot looked to hit Bo Horvat (uncredited, so maybe not) before Anders Lee got a piece on its way under Jarry.
Overtime: Breakaway party
Overtime was an exchange of careful possession, with the Penguins holding more of the puck and doing lots of overlaps, and the Islanders skaters staying really disciplined in sticking with their men. It never got too scary, unless an Islander lost track of his man, which Nelson essentially did before his winner.
After Palmieri had a golden chance to finish the story, Nelson’s breakaway was something else, as it required a special assist.
“So Sorokin giving the Billy Smith there — only it’s legal...”
>>Butch Goring, describing Sorokin’s game-saving and game-winning pokecheck
Butchie sees shades of Billy Smith with Sorokin's poke-check pic.twitter.com/Bvv5PcXBhJ— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) March 10, 2023
The live version:
Another wild card battle looms, though against an opponent whose GM already threw in the towel. The Capitals, who lost at home via shootout to the Devils tonight, will be in Elmont on Saturday night.