The Round One series is even. The 2020-21 Pittsburgh Penguins did what the 2019 version could not. The Penguins beat the New York Islanders in a playoff game and did so with a strong third period with an aggressive attack. After a 2-1 win, the Penguins tied the Round One series against New York, 1-1.
With the game on the line, the Penguins played forward, on their toes.
“I thought we competed hard. I really liked the third period in particular,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We played on our toes and defended well.”
In Game 1, New York adjusted to the Penguins speed with a somewhat surprising tactic. Rather than backing further, or bringing more players back into the defensive zone, thus sacrificing offense, coach Barry Trotz ordered his troops to step forward. New York upped their pressure on the puck, especially in the neutral zone on the Penguins puck carriers.
That flip changed the game.
In Game 2, the Penguins again opened up New York in the first period. The Penguins had 19 shots on goal, scored a pair of goals (Bryan Rust, Jeff Carter), and otherwise played the period in the New York zone.
However, the Islanders used a different tact in the second. Instead of pressuring the charged-up Penguins, New York uglied-up the game. New York hit, hacked, and whacked at the Penguins. Some legal, some extra-legal, and some illegal. It ground the game to a halt and clearly gave the Fish Sticks a lift.
Once New York started the physical, everything evened out. The Penguins had chances to pull ahead, and New York had chances to tie it.
However, the feel of the game was entirely different until midway through the third period. How the Penguins responded this time bodes well for the series.