15 more to go!
After 56-grueling regular-season games, the Islanders have made it back to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. On Sunday afternoon, in the usually hostile environment that is PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, the Islanders drew first blood by taking Game One of their best-of-seven series against the Penguins 4-3 in overtime thanks in part to Kyle Palmieri’s multi-goal performance and Ilya Sorokin’s stout goaltending.
This series is one that should have fans — on both sides — gripping the edge of their seats. And let’s be honest, anybody familiar with the playoff history between these franchises would wholeheartedly agree; this is not a series to watch for the faint of heart.
Of the many times the Boys from Long Island and the Penguins have faced off in the playoffs, there are several meetings that jump to the forefront of your mind.
First came the epic Quarter-Finals in 1975, when the Penguins were up 3-0 in the series and had the Nassaumen by the throat. Then a miracle happened and the Isles won Games 4, 5 and 6 to force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh. That Game 7 was played at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena and when it was over, the Isles had won 1-0 to complete the comeback.
Oh, by the way, the goal was scored by Captain Ed Westfall, who, after the game, took awhile to get showered and changed. So long in fact, that his teammates had left him behind at the arena as they went to celebrate, leaving Westfall to grab dinner and drinks with several of the Penguins players. That just sounds like an awkward table.
Next came the 1982 Patrick Division Semi-Finals, a best-three-of-five series. The Boys from Long Island were two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and seeking their third straight Cup. But the Penguins stood in their way and came ever so close to ending the Isles’ run at two Cups instead of four.
New York won Games 1 and 2 but lost Games 3 and 4 to force a Winner-Take-All Game 5 at Nassau Coliseum. Bob Nystrom got the Islanders on the board in the second period but that lead was soon erased as the Penguins scored three times in the period to go up 3-1 with just 20-minutes to play in regulation.
For the first 14-minutes of the third period the blood pressure of Islanders fans everywhere climbed to dangerous levels. But then things stabilized as Mike McEwen and John Tonelli scored late in the period to tie the game at 3-3 and force sudden-death overtime. It was then that Tonelli scored again (at the 6:19 mark of the extra period) to preserve the Islanders run at a third straight Cup.
I know what you’re all thinking, clearly the 1992-93 Division Finals series came next. You remember that series don’t you? The one that was the reverse of 1982. The one in which the Penguins were two-time defending Cup champions and seeking their third straight. Well, this best-four-of-seven series went the distance and then some, as Game 7 required overtime. And in that overtime period, David Volek scored at the 5:16 mark to cut the Penguins’ run short in shocking fashion.
It took 20-years for another memorable series between these teams to occur. This time it was the Penguins who had the last laugh as they won the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals matchup four-games-to-two and it saw plenty of nastiness along the way; especially in Game 3 which featured 10 total penalties, a furious Islanders comeback and eventually a Chris Kunitz overtime winner for Pittsburgh.
Lastly, came the 2018-19 First-Round sweep for the Islanders that shocked the hockey world and re-introduced playoff hockey to Nassau Coliseum while kick-starting the Isles current playoff streak.
Clearly, there’s no love lost between the Islanders and Penguins. So, with all of that in mind, here’s how Game 1 in 2021 unfolded.
The news was announced shortly before game-time that Semyon Varlamov would not dress for the game as he was deemed to still be less than 100% after suffering a minor injury in the season-finale. So, Ilya Sorokin started in net and Cory Schneider backed him up.
On the other side, Pittsburgh was without Evgeni Malkin, who has dealt with his own injuries this season.
Then the puck was dropped and Pittsburgh opened the game by tilting the ice against the Islanders. The Penguins ran out to a 4-0 shots on goal advantage and pinned the Isles in their own zone for much of the first five-minutes before New York finally managed to register its first shot at 5:37. That was an Adam Pelech shot from the blue line and it opened the door a bit as the teams exchanged chances in a flurry.
Several strong saves by Sorokin were followed by a couple of failed chances for the Islanders, but their fortunes were swiftly changed when Kyle Palmieri weaved into Pittsburgh’s zone and shot the puck over Tristan Jarry and into the net for the 1-0 Islanders lead at 7:58.
Palmieri’s goal gave the Nassaumen some extra oomph but Frederick Gaudreau came right back for Pittsburgh and tied the game with a top-shelf shot after Josh Bailey blocked a couple earlier attempts. On the play, Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield were once more over-matched down low and that led to the opening for Pittsburgh. 1-1 at 11:10.
Gaudreau’s goal snuffed out what little momentum the Islanders had gained from Palmieri’s goal and for a prolonged stretch of play, it was all Pittsburgh who was able to control the pace of play.
The Boys from Long Island had a glorious chance to retake control of the game when the loose puck got in behind Jarry but Brock Nelson was unable to poke the puck into the empty net. Then, Jake Guentzel went up ice in transition and was tripped into the boards by Sorokin at the end of his breakaway to put the Islanders on the penalty-kill; Anthony Beauvillier served the penalty.
For two full minutes the Penguins controlled the puck in the Isles’ zone, however, the Islanders bent but didn’t break and eventually they survived the penalty thanks to Sorokin’s toe save on Sidney Crosby and entered the first intermission with the game still tied 1-1.
The second period began with the Islanders and Sorokin under siege. The young Russian netminder was forced to do the splits several times to make saves and was the only thing keeping the Islanders from disaster.
But even that wasn’t enough as Nick Leddy then attempted an outlet pass that went right to Guentzel, who got the puck over to Brian Dumoulin, who shot the puck towards Sorokin. Before the puck could even get to Sorokin, Sidney Crosby managed to deflect it with one hand on his stick and the puck darted past Sorokin for the 2-1 Penguins lead at 3:47 of the second period.
An Adam Pelech tripping penalty against Kasperi Kapanen soon followed, however the Isles penalty-kill remained strong. Unfortunately, their power-play could not be described the same way as almost eight-minutes after Pelech’s penalty, Jeff Carter was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking Brock Nelson. On that power-play, the Isles generated just two shots on goal and little else; which was an opportunity missed to attempt to even up the game.
And moments after Carter’s penalty was killed off, the Isles went back to the penalty-kill as Andy Greene was punished for interfering with Carter. That penalty ate up most of the remaining time in the second period, but luckily the Isles were able to remain perfect on the PK as they headed into the second intermission only down 2-1.
The start of the third period was a chance for the Islanders to make this a brand new game and J.G. Pageau did just that at the 3:33 mark as he shot the puck high, over Jarry’s glove — just like Palmieri — and scored to tie the game 2-2.
That goal sparked the Nassaumen as they finally started to exert their will against the Penguins and controlled play for several minutes.
This momentum continued to build through the third period as the Islanders skaters; especially Oliver Wahlstrom, kept pushing the pace. In addition, the Isles were out-hitting the Penguins by a wide margin, 57-40 through 57-minutes of play.
Finally, with 4:10 to play in regulation, Brock Nelson fired a shot that trickled through Jarry and into the net for the 3-2 Islanders lead. Unfortunately, that lead lasted only 31-seconds as Kasperi Kapanen came right back with a snipe shot of his own to beat Sorokin and tie the game 3-3 with 3:39 to go in regulation.
So, with the game tied at 3-3 — just like in Game 1 of their 2018-19 series — the teams headed to overtime.
Overtime began with the teams feeling each other out and was a far tighter period than the second and third had been. However, Mathew Barzal, J.G. Pageau, Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle each eventually had a chance to end the game but were turned aside by Jarry.
On the other side of the ice, Sorokin was forced to make save after save to bail out his teammates as the young netminder put the team on his back for long stretches of time.
Eventually, with just 3:30 to go in the first overtime period, Kyle Palmieri found a small window of room to shoot the puck over Jarry’s left shoulder and into the Penguins’ net for the game-winning goal: 4-3 Islanders on Palmieri’s second-goal of the game and his biggest as an Islander.
Well that was certainly a nail-bitter to the end, just like you’d expect from these two teams and you can expect more of the same when Game 2 commences on Tuesday night.
The Isles went 0-for-2 on the power-play and 3-for-3 on the penalty-kill…Ilya Sorokin made his NHL Playoff debut for the injured Semyon Varlamov…Sorokin is the first Isles rookie to start in net in the opening game of the playoffs since Chico Resch in 1975 and 1976…This was the first time since Game 7 of their 1992-93 series that the Isles and Penguins required overtime in the playoffs for a game played in Pittsburgh. By the way, that game was played on May 16th and today is also May 16th. (Thank you Eric Hornick for the strange stat)…Also, this was the 58th overtime playoff game in Isles history (again thank you Eric Hornick).
Game 2 — Tuesday May 18th Islanders at Penguins at PPG Paints Arena at 7:30pm(EST).
TV: NBCSN, MSG, MSG +, CBC, TVAS, SN
Radio: 88.7FM WRHU