May 3, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defensemanMatt Niskanen
(2) leaves the ice after a fight against New York Islanders right wingKyle Okposo
(not pictured) during the second period in game two of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH, PA – The New York Islanders
steal a grind out their finest, most courageous, and certainly their most important win to date this year, by a score of 4-3.
New York understood that going into tonight’s matchup, they not only needed to match their opponent’s physicality and productivity meted out in game 1, but find any means necessary to surpass it, thereby setting a new tone for the series. Safe to say that Kyle Okposo took the aforementioned and ran with it.
The most striking characteristic to Wednesday’s blowout loss, was the Isles’s complete lack of identity, for not one Isles player stepped in to lead a charge, while John Tavares was held shotless, and Evgeni Nabokov chased early in the 2nd. Tonight everything that was missing, I do mean everything lacking in game 1, surfaced this evening.
After another shaky start to his goaltending duties, Evgeni Nabokov found his postseason rhythm, stopping 30 SOG after the 3rd Penguins notch. His positional play was impeccable thereafter, and helped boost some Islander confidence in the backcheck, allowing everyone on the ice to begin thinking creatively rather than desperately.
Another element added to the Isles’ schematics was a strong defensive core, as Brian Strait and Travis Hamonic wreaked havoc all night long on the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, paying back the Penguins’ for their approach to Tavares in game one. Although Sidney Crosby would score twice, his presence began to diminish once the Islanders realized that the Penguins were being much too cavalier with puck possession.
And then there was the ‘one player’, the climatic moment, the turning point, and it came in the form of a fight from the most unlikely of protagonists: Kyle Okposo. Matt Niskanen appeared to have hit (leaving his feet) Matt Moulson with an elbow inside the neutral zone, and the Isles forward dropped to the ice. Seconds later, Okposo steps in to protect his teammate and the two scrapped. The Isles forward would land several solid, flush punches to Niskanen’s face, filleting it wide open with the very first knock. The Penguin player would have to leave the ice with a face full of blood, while Okposo’s jersey wore traces of the beating and subsequent victory while sitting in the penalty box for the 5 minute major.
The Isles, although down by a pair in the first period, never looked back or sulked. In fact, with each Penguins goal, the Isles seemed to play with increased vigor, and their attack on Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net would eventual rattle him.
Much praise should be lauded onto Jack Capuano, who now has the look of a coach who understands his team’s dimensions. Capuano made all the right changes to the lineup: Moving Moulson to the 2nd line to play with Frans Nielsen; Josh Bailey up with Tavares and Brad Boyes; Michael Grabner starting on the 4th line with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin; Matt Carkner for Thomas Hickey; and the first appearance in quite some time of the energetic and aggressive David Ullstrom who was called up from Bridgeport to join the team for the series. All of these aforementioned moves helped to create an identity similar to the one that defined their play during the last two months of the season.
I’d be remise if I didn’t mention that Matt Martin scored the tying goal off a wonderful and highly intelligent move on his part: skating and biding his time in the left slot area, Martin would capitalize on a Josh Bailey shot that rebounded off the back board behind Fleury. Equally remise I would be if I also failed to mention that the Isles PK unit killed off a 4 minute major penalty: another significant momentum changer.
Now Capuano must realize that if he wants production from Martin, he cannot have Marty Reasoner back in the lineup leading that line.
Tavares would have 1 assistant and a plethora of shots that more than made up for his anemic performance on Wednesday, and it’s only a matter of time before he scores his first postseason goal.
Whatever happens next, do believe that the NHL has taken notice of this New York Islander club, and all the teams that will play either New York or Pittsburgh will use this game as a sort of primer on how to defend against and what to expect from either one.
These are the types of games that make hockey one of the great sports on earth, and these types of gutsy victories make loving the Islanders so easy and so rewarding.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS at PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
7:oo PM ET, May 3rd, 2013
CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Islanders fail to clear the puck in front of Nabokov and the Penguins score early; Travis Hamonic misses his check on Evgeni Malkin, but upon closer inspection Matt Martin failed to clear the puck properly off the glass, which began this foray
- Andrew MacDonald takes an early penalty: more nervous, misdirected energy lands the Islanders in trouble early in the game
- Nabokov mishandles a wide shot that caromed off the boards and to the front of his crease; Sidney Crosby is fed a quick pass by Jarome Ignila and the Pens Captain shoves the puck into a gaping net–on the Power Play
- Crosby scores his second of the game off a difficult angle, as a terrible rebound by Nabokov is buried top shelf: 20 seconds or so after the Boyes goal; Nabokov looks shaky and completely devoid of any of the identity that characterized his play these past two months
- Lubo Visnovsky takes a bad penalty boarding, but Penguins fail to capitalize
- John Tavares takes a 4 minute double minor for high sticking
- Islanders still show fight after the 3 goal deficit, taking more shots and rushing the Penguins net; 7 SOG within the first 7 minutes
- Islanders capitalize on the power play, as they score their first of the series: Matt Moulson shovels pass to Brad Boyes. Puck deflects off Pens skate, and goal eventually given to Moulson. First power play goal after 5 attempts. Would have been Boyes 4th postseason goal of his career
- Forechecking during the first period is marked by strong skating and puck management
- Game settles at the 16th minute of the first, and Isles show much more a concerted offensive effort; defensemen begin to pinch on the play
- On 3rd PP opportunity, Isles show some strength along the boards, keeping the puck inside the Pens zone
- The Isles outshoot the Pens 20 to 12 in the first, owning most of the ice and play even after the goal deficit
- Kyle Okposo fights Matt Niskanen (and cuts him badly with a strong punch to the face) after Moulson is hit in the neutral zone
- The Okposo fight gave the Islanders some energy and the Isles score within seconds: Colin McDonald with bank shot off Fleury at the 5:12 mark of the second
- Brian Strait gives Crosby a clean hit that Jarome Iginla takes exception and is given a penalty
- Matt Martin ties it up on a beautiful opportunistic rebound and subsequent shot on goal; Brian Strait‘s hit is the key to this goal
- Isles killed vast majority of double minor as period two comes to a close; Nabokov with some key saves
- Tavares has made his presence known in this game: 1 assist, 12 shots, puck cycling on the power play, and establishing his own game in this series, all by the third period
- Travis Hamonic is playing one of his grittiest games to date: with much heart and tenacity. Injured on a previous play, he comes out and plays on a long PK shift with determination
- Through 2 periods, Isles have out shot the Penguins 34 to 25
- Brian Strait and Travis Hamonic are the heart and soul of the defense corps this evening, as the Isles PK kill off a 4 minute major penalty
- Nabokov looks to have regained his composure, as he makes some critical saves early in the 3rd
- Kyle Okposo shots wide and the carom beats Fleury and the Isles get first lead of the series; would prove to be the game winner
- Their aggressive, relentless play on both sides of the ice, and the fight proved to be a reality the Penguins were unprepared to withstand and/or counter; Isles would outshoot the Pens 42-33