Islanders at Penguins – Game 5 Preview: Opportunity Knocks For Isles


May 3, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo (21) and left wing Matt Moulson (26) react after Okposo scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in game two of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The New York Islanders won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh, PA – The best-of-seven series between the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 NHL playoffs hasn’t played out according to the predictions of the so-called “experts,” as the teams are tied 2-2 heading into tonight’s matchup.

The Islanders will travel to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center in a pivotal Game 5. Puck-drop is at 7:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Network, unless you’re in the New York Media market, where MSG+ will have the television broadcast.

The Radio Hoftra University radio call can be heard on 98.7FM in the New York area, as ESPN is teaming up with the Isles radio affiliate to carry the game.

The Islanders realize that the opportunity to take a series lead against the Pens is a big one, and that it’s won’t come around often. With a win tonight, the Isles would take a 3-2 series advantage back to Uniondale, NY, where the home crowd at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum has been the most raucous in the NHL.

And while the Islanders have won a game in Pittsburgh already – their 4-3 Game 2 victory – not by any stretch of the imagination is it a foregone conclusion that the Isles will win tonight.

(According to the bookmakers, the Penguins are +230 favorites on the moneyline; roughly translated, that equates to 70 percent chance of a Pittsburgh win.)

However, the Pens have taken note of the fact that the Islanders are no longer an Eastern Conference also-ran, and have made a major lineup change in advance of tonight’s tilt: Tomas Vokoun will be between the pipes, replacing oft-maligned netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

Vokoun owns a 3-0 record against the Isles this season, stopping 98-of-101 shots that he faced in those games. It should be noted, though, that those games were played against a New York team much different from the one he’ll see tonight.

The Islanders have collectively raised their level of play in the postseason, getting pucks in deep and cycling relentlessly along the half- and end-boards. All of the extra work in the corners has led to myriad scoring chances for the Isles. If they can stick to that style of game, Vokoun will have his hands full in net.

The Isles have also made a personnel change of their own, albeit due to injury rather than poor play. Veteran defenseman Radek Martinek will be inserted into the lineup for the injured Andrew MacDonald, who is out with a fractured hand.

It appears that Isles head coach Jack Capuano is again relying on player experience when writing his lineup card, as Martinek is the only player on the roster to have seen postseason action the last time the Islanders made the playoffs.

It will be a trial by fire for Martinek, who will get to see the Sidney Crosby—Chris Kunitz—Pascal Dupuis line up-close and personal for the first time this series.

(Although the phrase “will get to see” implies that it’s a reward. In reality, seeing Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis up-close is nothing of the sort.)

Through the first four games, the trio has combined for 13 points, as follows: Crosby 2G-4A, Kunitz 2G-2A, Dupuis 2G-1A. In short, stopping Pittsburgh’s top line has been a nightmare for the Isles defense.

There was also speculation this morning that Thomas Hickey would replace Matt Carkner on the blue line for tonight’s game, but it’s likely that he’ll again be a healthy scratch.

That means the Islanders will dress a defense corps that includes three puck-moving D-men (Martinek, Lubomir Visnovsky and Mark Streit) and three of the physical, “stay-at-home” variety (Carkner, Brian Strait and Travis Hamonic).

Except for the Marty Reasoner debacle, Capuano’s coaching decisions have been solid this series; here’s hoping that adding Martinek to the lineup follows that template.

The Islanders need to focus on playing their style and staying out of the penalty box – although that hasn’t always been easy, considering the dubious officiating that has characterized this series – in order to beat the Penguins tonight.

Weathering the storm in the game’s first 10 minutes will be essential; the Pens will come out angry after their Game 4 loss, and their fans will be rabid in support. The Isles have played twice in this type of environment already and will need to emulate Game 2’s performance rather than Game 1’s.

Isles fans have waited years for these kinds of games: pressure-packed playoff contests that take years off the back end of our lives (in a good way). Can the Isles capitalize on the momentum they have going into tonight? Will the team take advantage of the opportunity knocking at its door?

That’s what remains to be seen.

Projected lineup:

12 Bailey – 91 Tavares – 24 Boyes
26 Moulson – 51 Nielsen – 21 Okposo
41 Ullstrom – 10 Aucoin – 40 Grabner
17 Martin – 53 Cizikas – 13 McDonald

3 Hamonic – 2 Streit
11 Visnovsky – 37 Strait
4 Martinek – 7 Carkner

20 Evgeni Nabokov
60 Kevin Poulin

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