The 2012-13 NHL season will be remembered as the year of the lockout, where 34 regular season games were sacrificed as millionaires argued with billionaires over their share of the NHL pie. For the New York Islanders, it was the start of two playoff berths in three seasons.
In 2012-13, Jack Capuano was in his third year at the helm and the New York Islanders (24-17-7, third in the Atlantic) qualified for the right to face the Penguins (36-12-0, first in the Atlantic) in the first round; The Islanders first appearance in the postseason since 2007.
That year the Isles lost the season series four games to one, as Pittsburgh outscored them 17-9. The Pens iced arguably the deepest roster in their history. Along with stalwarts, Crosby and Malkin, the Pens included players in their prime like, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Kris Letang, Brendan Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, and a March deal added Hall of Famer, Jarome Iginla to the mix.
But the Penguins were hurting as they entered the playoffs.
Goalie Marc Andre Fleury was going through a bad stretch. Crosby (broken jaw) and Malkin were battling injuries.
The Islanders, however, were completing an 8-1-4 April. They had collected points in 14 of their last 15 games behind some superb play from goalie Evgeni Nabakov. The Isles, out of playoff contention in March, secured the final slot and a chance, with the Pens.
The 2013 playoffs would be the fourth meeting between these teams. The Islanders had never lost to the Penguins previously.
This series was something different. The Pens were the darlings of the NHL. The league was intent on restoring fan interest; to overcome the taint of an asterisked lockout season.
It was important that NHL darling, Sidney Crosby, remained on playoff display for as long as possible. It was paramount that a perennial TV rating powerhouse, like the Pens, go deep into the playoffs.
Further, both teams were only two seasons removed from that legendary fight night. A night where Trevor Gillies and Michael Haley led a retribution slugfest that set an NHL record 346 penalty minutes. Mario Lemieux was an outspoken critic of the NHL’s handling of that game. The league lockout included policies to eradicate a similar event from ever repeating.
Special teams were a hallmark for this Islander team. A team whose top line dominated time on ice and included no less than three 13th forwards every night. The Isles above-average power play netted five goals in April (18.5% 11th overall). The formidable tandem of Tavares and Moulson combined for 17 PP goals during the abbreviated season.
The penalty kill, statistically below average during the regular season, improved during the final run. The Isles did not yield a single shorthanded goal during the regular season.
So, it came as no surprise that officiating would be a big part of this heated series.
Tale of the Tape
The Isles were blown out in Game one, 5-0.
In Game two the Pens jumped to an early two-goal lead (both from Crosby) but Kyle Okposo had his first playoff fight and goal to lead an inspirational comeback; a huge 4-3 Islander win.
The win set up a big game three back at the Coliseum. The teams went back and forth to send the game to OT. And Islanders fan favorite Brian Strait got called for Holding on Crosby…in overtime…for this play…
Sidney being Sidney. The strongest skater of our time flops as he initiates a push off of Strait. Of course, this odd holding call led to the Pens OT PP winner. Putting the Penguins up by two games to one.
In game four the Isles stormed back at the Nassau Coliseum with three unanswered goals in the third and earned a 6-4 win evening the series at two games.
Game five was a 4-0 blowout where the pens went to Thomas Vokoun over Fleury. The Islanders were shorthanded five times in the third, effectively guaranteeing the Pens the win.
On May 11, 2013, before a frenzied sellout Coliseum crowd, the Isles faced off against the Pens in a pivotal game six. Brock Nelson replaced Jesse Joensuu to make his NHL debut. The Islanders dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Penguins 28-13.
Nevertheless, the Isles entered the third deadlocked in a 2-2 tie. At 5:36 of the third Bailey fed Tavares for a wrister that beat Vokoun to make it 3-2.
Then, with 5:30 left Colin Macdonald (pre- Cal Clutterbuck) drove to the net and was clearly tripped by a tired Penguin defender.
The ensuing play led to a line change bringing a fresh Paul Martin. Malkin drove behind the net beating Terry Carkner and fed the blue line to Martin. Martin’s blue line slapshot beat Nabby, knotting the game at three with 5:16 remaining.
The goal was crippling and the Islanders for the first time in the series, looked like the tired team.
From there the Penguins drove play, especially in overtime, until Brooks Orpik beat the Maven’s favorite Nabakov (from the blueline again) to end the series.
The gracious home crowd continued a powerful “Lets Go Islanders” chant for minutes after the final horn, for a team that exemplified Islander hockey.
I’ll never forget sharing my thoughts of the officiating with a smirking Mario Lemieux post-game in the Coliseum hallway. It was ugly throughout. However, because of the post-lockout environment, even Mad Mike Milbury was tempered in expressing his dissatisfaction with the refs.
Hockey is a tough game to officiate. As a result, there are wild, sometimes maddening, officiating inconsistencies from game to game. Increasingly within the same game.
However, the NHL is on notice. The officials cannot be a factor this time around.