By Adrian Dater
For starters, how great was it to see boisterous Islanders fans twirling orange towels in the air at Nassau Coliseum? For too long, their materials of no choice have been white flags.
We can also safely assert that it was a fun game to watch between the heavyweight, top-ranked Penguins and the spunky Isles. Does that mean it was a particularly well-played contest? Does that mean there weren’t a few really boneheaded errors by both sides? No and no.
The Islanders got incredibly sloppy and, well, stupid with their play after taking a quick 2-0 lead. Ditto for the Penguins in the third period after they took a two-goal lead of their own into the final 20 minutes of regulation. Ultimately, the Penguins prevailed in OT to claim Game 3 and a 2-1 lead in this opening-round series.
Here are a few more observations from Game 3:
• The Islanders were off to a great start — a 2-0 lead within the first six minutes — after getting the puck in deep and hammering the Penguins’ defense to create turnovers. New York’s second goal, by Casey Cizikas, came because linemate Michael Grabner nailed Pens defenseman Douglas Murray behind the net and defender Matt Niskanen vacated the front to help Murray. Grabner got the puck out to Cizikas for the easy marker
• With a 2-0 lead, the Isles were given a power-play chance at 7:58 of the first period when Tanner Glass was whistled for roughing. Then things went bad in a hurry for New York. Instead of chip, chase and crash into bodies, the Isles started trying to carry the puck over the blue line and make fancy plays. That didn’t work at all. Pretty soon, they got totally off their game and tried to skate with the Penguins. Penalties to defensemen Mark Streit (hooking) and Travis Hamonic (a senseless grab-and-trip of Jarome Iginla just 34 seconds after Streit was sent to the box) led to goals by Iginla and Chris Kunitz all of 19 seconds apart. Tie game.
• Even though John Tavares scored on a brilliant shot to tie it in the third period, his tardy backcheck greatly contributed to Pascal Dupuis’ tie-breaking goal with one minute to go in the first period. To me, that was the game’s biggest tally, with apologies to Kunitz in OT. If the Isles can get out of that first period even at 2-2, I think they regroup better in the second. Instead, they seemed a bit down on themselves, producing their fewest shots (8) in those second 20 minutes.
• Actually, maybe Douglas Murray’s goal was the game’s biggest. First off, Douglas Murray? Why in the world was he allowed to skate down into the slot wide open to accept a pass from Evgeni Malkin and bury a shot for a 4-2 second-period lead? The Islanders’ defense got too bunched up around Malkin. That’s understandable in a sense, but you’ve got to at least keep someone minding the store in front.
• Despite the mistakes cited above, Evgeni Nabokov was, well, pretty awful in the Isles’ net. Pittsburgh produced only 25 shots during the entire game, but five got past the veteran Russian. True, three came on the power play, but Nabby was shaky all day. If not for a couple of crossbar saves, the Pens ‘goal output would have been higher.
• Here is pretty much Nabokov’s playoff history for you. He’s now 41-40 in his postseason career, despite having played on some very good San Jose Sharks teams. He entered Game 3 with a 5.12 goals-against average in this series and it didn’t shrink much today.
• About the penalty that led to the power-play winner by Kunitz: yeah, that was a legitimate call on New York’s Brian Strait, all right. Strait was about to get beat out of the corner by Sidney Crosby (who had three assists) and had to do something, so he grabbed Crosby’s left shoulder and kind of hauled him down. Did Crosby go down pretty easily? Maybe, but the call was the correct one.
• It can probably correctly be said that the Pens stole this one. Iginla’s tripping penalty with 8:41 left in regulation of a 4-4 game looked ominous for Pittsburgh with Tavares and Kyle Okposo raising the roof at the old barn in Uniondale with their third-period goals. The Isles again had a man advantage with a chance to go ahead, but their power play let them down as it did all game (0-for-3, while the Pens went 3-5).
• The Isles have shown themselves to be a hearty, resilient bunch. But you get the strong feeling, don’t you, that they blew their only chance to win the series. This was their carpe diem moment, but the diem eluded their carpe.