A raucous crowd, a healthy dose of adrenaline and reconfigured Pittsburgh Penguins defensive lineup which struggled to gel quickly spotted the New York Islanders three leads. However, New York forward Josh Bailey finished a two-on-one breakaway in overtime after the Penguins were caught during a line change. Defenseman Kris Letang committed a turnover at the Islanders blue line, New York transitioned to offense and beat the Penguins 4-3 in OT at Nassau Coliseum.
New York has 1-0 series lead in the Round One best of seven series.
The overtime turnover was particularly costly.
“It’s everything we’ve talked about for the last couple of days, just making sure we manage the puck and have situation awareness in mind,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “When you’re late in shifts, especially when it’s a long change from your bench, you’ve got to make good decisions with the puck.”
The Penguins pushed the game into extra time. With goalie Matt Murray pulled for an extra attacker, the Penguins tied the game in the final two minutes of regulation when Justin Schultz (1) scored on a slap shot through traffic. But this was New York’s game from the beginning.
For the first time this season, the Penguins defense had seven healthy NHL defensemen and Jack Johnson was the odd-man out. However, for the first 30 minutes, the Penguins defense looked more confused than a Jeopardy contestant who bet it all but didn’t know the answer. New York had more than its share of Grade A chances as the result of uncovered players.
New York scored just 33 seconds into the game when former Pittsburgh Penguins light scoring grinder Tom Kuhnhackl unleashed wicked wrist shot over Penguins goalie Matt Murray. The goal didn’t count but New York didn’t stop attacking the Penguins and scored one minute later.
In the first two minutes, Jordan Eberle (1) was uncovered on the Penguins doorstep after defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s turnover. Dumoulin also failed to cover Eberle in front to complete the head-scratching play.
The Penguins did find some footing in the first period despite the New York badgering. Dominik Simon took advantage of sagging Islanders defenders and charged into the New York zone. He dropped the puck to Phil Kessel and drove to the net. Kessel (1) used the space and created more time as skated into the slot and whipped a shot into the twine.
The ice at Nassau Coliseum was perhaps more suited for a snow cone than a hockey game. More than a few players caught ruts or fell during the opening 20 minutes. On all three goals in the first period, a defender was left sprawled on the ice, staring at the lights and Stanley Cup banners which hang in the rafters.
New York earned their second lead of the game when Brock Nelson scored a power-play goal in the waning minutes of the first period and it was Penguins penalty killer Matt Cullen who lost his skates. Brock Nelson (1) was alone in front of the Penguins net and didn’t miss.
Trailing by one, the Penguins finally got a few consecutive chances in the middle of the second period. Sidney Crosby drew an interference call on New York defenseman Ryan Pulock and the Penguins power play converted. Evgeni Malkin (1) simply blasted it towards the net from the right wing circle. His shot was deflected and bounced beneath New York goalie Robin Lehner.
The goal spurred the Penguins for the remainder of the second period. New York had 60% of the scoring chances in the first period and the Penguins had 60% in the second period. The most surprising stat of the game was New York fourth line with Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Czikas and their domination of the Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby.
Crosby’s line with Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel didn’t have a scoring chance in the first two periods. They were skunked 7-0.
Fittingly, the teams tied with seven scoring chances in the third period. The Penguins had 41 shots in regulation. Lehner stopped 38. Penguins goalie Matt Murray was equally good and stopped 28 of 31 in regulation.
More from the Penguins locker room shortly.