Middletown, N. J. – After making some calls and relying on some old friends, it has been confirmed that every store in the Pittsburgh, PA area is reporting a broom shortage. Census reports that each household now owns 5 each and they are stowed neatly in garages and linen closets everywhere. For they are not needed in this series.
What was billed to be a David vs Goliath match up with ‘experts’ and pundits giving the New York Islanders no chance to compete with the high-octane offense of the Penguins has now turned into a series where you have to ask yourself, ‘Can the Penguins rebound and actually win the series?’. I am leery to get too far ahead of myself but the facts are there. Unforced turnovers galore, abhorrent goaltending and memories of their series last year with the Philadelphia Flyers are all very clear in this team of black and gold and if there is ever an old adage to listen to it’s this – Never give a young, inexperienced team confidence. That is exactly what is overflowing in the Islanders locker room at the moment.
They know they can win, as they have been the better team over the last three games and have narrowed this series down to a best of three starting Thursday night at Consol Energy Center. They know they can win on the road, with a 14-6-4 mark in the regular season and 1-1 in these playoffs. Their third and fourth lines are coming up absolutely huge with contributions from Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald tonight leading the way. Michael Grabner is playing the best two-way hockey of his career and John Tavares shook off the opening game jitters and is growing up right before our very eyes. Kyle Okposo‘s name has been front and center and he proved his mettle again tonight with smart, heady play in all three zones.
This is a team that nobody in the league wants to play is what some said before game one and the Islanders are making that prophecy look every bit true. Had it not been for some dubious officiating, and tonight had its fair share as well, it could very well be New York looking to close out a series on Thursday.
It just goes to prove that the National Hockey League playoffs are the best competition in all of sports. There is no sport with more intensity and edge of your seat action that what this league produces on a nightly basis on the road to the Stanley Cup. The New York Islanders are part of that tradition again and are not wasting their opportunity to show the league what we have all known through the course of this shortened season. A bunch of gritty, young, hard-nosed, never say die players who one could wonder if they possibly draw comparisons to the famous 1980 US Olympic hockey team.
We are there, and it’s just not good enough to enjoy being there and the return to relevance. As Josh Bailey noted. “WE WANT TO WIN”. And we as fans should want to also. Even if we are playing with house money, let’s take the whole damn casino down.
- John Tavares – what a performance on the biggest stage by the Islanders young leader. Incredible hands to dangle around four Penguins for the game winner. Never stopped working and fought through everything that was thrown his way. Incredible battle we have been anticipating against Brooks Orpik went to JT tonight in round one.
- Mark Streit – The much maligned captain of the Isles was solid tonight at both ends of the rink, finally throwing pucks on net instead of looking for the pass down low from the blue line. It paid off with two goals, although I still think his first went off JT’s stick.
- Casey Cizikas – The smallest player on the two teams is playing with the biggest heart. What a game by the spark-plug, who has certainly found a home on the third line for years to come. His toss at the net for the sixth goal was exactly what New York needed. Realizing that Marc-Andre Fleury was a soft as a flower, just have to throw pucks at him.
- The entire Islanders defense – With Andrew MacDonald going down with an injury in the second period (which is now known to be a broken hand – out for playoffs) the Isles were down to a five man unit. Lubomir Visnovsky (23:38) and Travis Hamonic (28:42) along with Brian Strait, Streit and Matt Carkner all deserve game pucks for that effort in the third, holding the Pens to one goal and 12 shots.
- Colin MacDonald – I know this is going to be met with some venom, but Colin’s restraint in the game ending melee was a show of class. He could have easily roughed up Sidney Crosby and shoved his glove into his face.
- Frans Nielsen had a good night in the faceoff circle, going 9-5, but did little else to impress tonight. 2 major blown assignments, one on a line change to allow Evgeni Malkin to score on a 2 on 1, then not tracking Crosby in the neutral zone leading to the Pens only third period marker. The Isles best defensive forward has to play like one, starting now.
- Evgeni Nabokov – this had the making of a game where each goaltender was trying to outdue the other, but in the wrong way. Looking shaky all night, fighting the puck, taking horrible angles (see Brandon Sutter goal) he has been FAR from the goalie we saw in the season’s last seven weeks. You have to start to wonder if that Jarome Iginla shot off the head in game one is having its effects.
- The power play – It went 1 for 4, with Streit’s second period marker being the only tally, but again did not show enough life or movement to really generate quality scoring chances. If the Isles power play wakes up, they will be winning this series hands down to be honest, as the 5v5 play has been that good.
- The officiating – this has to be mentioned again. People who know me acknowledge that I don’t typically comment on it, as I truly feel it ends up evening itself out. But, in the first period alone, I counted 8 clear infractions right in front of the officials with only 3 being called. On a late call in the first period, Okposo heads towards the slot area and is clearly tripped by Iginla. That has to be a clear 5 on 3 for the entire two minutes. Immediately following the Isles first power play, Nielsen is checked in the slot by Craig Adams with a stick across the hands. Again, a clear call. Fast forward to the third period when it got real ugly. Cizikas getting his head pounded into the ice by Brenden Morrow and Martin getting shoved and pinned into the Pens bench by Matt Cooke and Morrow. To drive the point home, after what transpired in game three, a diving call on McDonald that was totally uncalled for. Just horrid all around and it has been a league wide problem all season long. A very lengthy review is sorely needed this off-season.
- David Ullstrom played a game low 5:15, Keith Aucoin clocked in at 8:47 and Matt Carkner 7:50.
- Isles were outshot for second time in series, 31-24, including 24-14 over the last two periods.
- Islanders won faceoff battle 29-25 and outhit the Pens 33-26.
- Each team blocked 16 shots
With the page now turning towards game five, you would have to think a goaltending change in is order in Pittsburgh. Tomas Vokoun, in his career against the Islanders, is 17-7 with a 1.95 GAA and .937 save percentage to go along with 5 shutouts. With the way Fleury has not performed in this series, head coach Dan Blysma is going to be giving that serious consideration over the next day and a half.
With the injury to MacDonald knocking him out of the post-season, all eyes are on Radek Martinek, the veteran who was brought back just for this occasion. Look for him to log between 12-15 minutes on Thursday. Radek has the legs and speed to keep up with the Pens forwards. The other question that remains is, does Thomas Hickey buy back into the lineup for Carkner.
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