The Round One series is tied, 1-1. Each team has scored five goals in the series, and neither has yet held a two-goal lead. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ opening round battle with the New York Islanders has been as close as New York hoped, but not as stingy as New York wants, and the Penguins probably should have won both games at home. The Game 3 puck drop is set for 7 p.m. but beware, the game is also on NBCsn.
According to our reporter in New York, Christian Arnold of NYI Hockey Now, the breaking news is Penguins center Evgeni Malkin took line rushes on Thursday morning. He also participated in power-play drills.
Head coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin is a game-time decision.
UPDATE: Malkin is in the lineup, per the official lineup.
However, Malkin taking rushes is a significant step in the right direction after Malkin had attended practices and skates for over a week, but not taken rushes. Malkin was paired with Jason Zucker on the left and Kasperi Kapanen on the right.
The Penguins have largely outplayed New York, except in the third period of Game 1 and could have won both games in Pittsburgh.
However, “should” and “close” don’t count in the NHL playoffs. All that matters are four wins, and the Penguins visit the expiring Nassau Coliseum needing at least one win to retake the home-ice advantage.
A reader’s poll by our sister site NYI Hockey Now showed Islanders fans are confident not only in winning Game 3 but a two-game takedown.
“It just gets me excited to get back to the (Nassau Coliseum),” Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield said after the Game 2 loss.
Of course, the Penguins won six of eight regular-season games against the Islanders, but the specter of playoffs past reared its head in Game 1 as the Penguins squandered a third-period lead and lost in OT. It was the fifth straight playoff loss to the Islanders, and serious questions loomed.
However, the Penguins and especially goalie Tristan Jarry had a rebound performance in Game 2, and the Penguins attacked New York in the third period with 16 shots on goal.
There was no sitting back. The Penguins won 2-1 to even the series. You can get the full breakdown (past is prologue) from our PHN+ Report Card.
And if you’d like to have a little more fun in Game 3, our friends at MGM have a few specials.
Neither team has scored a power-play goal in the series. The Penguins are 0-5, and the Islanders are 0-3. Tristan Jarry will undoubtedly get the start for the Penguins. Semyon Varlamov will most likely go again from the Islanders.
“Varlamov has been our number one goalie for all year,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said in defense of starting Varlamov in Game 2. “He’s got seven shutouts. He was outstanding, he set a team record, and he’s fully healthy. We wouldn’t be maybe in the playoffs if it wasn’t for Varly’s performance this year. That’s, to me, very simple. He was very close to being 100 percent, but we thought let’s make sure he was ready.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & (regular season) Special Teams:
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Freddy Gaudreau|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Brandon Tanev|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mike Matheson||Cody Ceci|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Expected Islanders Lines|
|Leo Komarov||Mathew Barzal||Jordan Eberle|
|Anthony Beauvillier||Brock Nelson||Josh Bailey|
|Kyle Palmieri||J-G Pageau||Oliver Wahlstrom|
|Matt Martin||Casey Czikas||Cal Clutterbuck|
|Adam Pelech||Ryan Pulock|
|Nick Leddy||Scott Mayfield|
|Andy Greene||Noah Dobson|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||23.7%, 4th NHL||77.4%, 27th NHL|
|New York Islanders||18.8%, 21st NHL||83.7%, 6th NHL|
What to Watch:
The Pittsburgh Penguins Game 2 performance was most impressive for one thing: their third-period attack. When most teams would have played buttoned-up or played conservatively, the Penguins found a way to do both. With the game on the line (and a lot more), the Penguins went after the Islanders. A hard forecheck and even some physical play put an exclamation point on the win.
The Islanders have been heavy on the forecheck, but the Penguins were able to beat it.
“…to give yourself the best chance to to get out of your end cleanly or just to get out of there in general against a heavy forecheck team like the Islanders–and quite honestly, that that’s where the league is trending–It takes six players,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “And I say six because the goaltender is a big part of it as well. Tristan obviously is a good puck handler. He has the ability to help us get out by making the first pass. If we can beat that first forechecker, it increases the chances of your exits with possession…”
The Penguins defensemen have done a brilliant job of avoiding the forecheck. The sidesteps, quick passes, and skating with the puck have slipped the Penguins to the next layer against the Islanders neutral zone clog.
When the Penguins are playing well, they’ve been able to get controlled zone entries with speed and attack the edges on the Islanders’ defense. That scrambles New York, which then has to defend low instead of pushing the Penguins to the perimeter.
Another key element: the Penguins have been better on the walls than the Islanders, which has led to a dramatic difference in puck possession. The net fronts have been a war zone. The Penguins aren’t necessarily equipped for that battle, but they’re engaging anyway. Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel, especially, have charged to the dirty areas and created havoc.
New York has tried to chop the Penguins into sawdust. The Islanders have 118 hits in the first two games, and, believe it or not, that total seems low. The Penguins have fought back well. Brandon Tanev and the Penguins fourth line were hitting back hard in Game 2.
In fact, the series could hinge on the Penguins fourth line and their ability to maintain their advantage over Mathew Barzal and the Islanders’ top line. Neither Barzal nor Jordan Eberle has scored in the series.
Conversely, we’ll see who the Islander matchup against Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel. Thus far, the Islanders have badly lost that battle.
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
- The Islanders are 5-1 in playoff games against the Penguins under Head Coach Barry Trotz, including 2-0 on Long Island.
The Islanders welcome 6,250 fans into Nassau Coliseum for the first home playoff game since April 28, 2019, vs. CAR
Leo Komarov had single-game season-high 14 hits in Game 1, the most in the NHL this season.
-Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has 40 playoff wins and is three shy of tying Dan Bylsma’s team record (43).
-The Penguins have an all-time series record of 16-14 in best-of-seven playoff series when entering Game 3 tied, 1-1. In those series where Pittsburgh has the home-ice advantage, they are 12-9.
-Kasperi Kapanen has points in each of Pittsburgh’s first two playoff games (1-1-2).
-Kris Letang has nine career postseason power-play goals. He is one shy of tying Larry Murphy (10) for the team record among defensemen.
-Jeff Carter scored his 40th career playoff goal in Game 2 win. It was his first playoff goal since April 22, 2016, with Los Angeles. Carter’s goal stood as the game-winning goal, the seventh of his career, and first since June 9, 2014, in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NBCSN; Radio: 105.9 The X