No need to panic, it’s still a 1-1 series.
Tuesday night in Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Arena, the Islanders experienced their first pothole on the road through the playoffs as the offense was missing in action for 99% of the game and it cost the team in its 2-1 loss to the Penguins.
Prior to Game Two, Isles Head Coach Barry Trotz continued a season-long trend of refusing to publicly name a starting netminder and instead just said it would be a Russian in net. Well, Tuesday night, that Russian was the one who was expected in Game One but surprisingly sat out and that’s Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov hadn’t played since sustaining a minor lower-body injury during the regular-season finale and it showed early on as he whiffed on a shot from Bryan Rust 3:22 into the game; which gave the Penguins the early 1-0 lead.
The shot from Rust was nothing special and it looked like Varlamov just didn’t track it; which can likely be attributed to his rust (no pun intended) from not playing since May 10th.
After getting the early lead, the Penguins continued to be aggressive and threw everything but the kitchen sink at Varlamov to test him out. Lucky for the Islanders that he stood tall, because the team was outworked, outplayed and outmaneuvered throughout the first period. Too many neutral zone and defensive zone turnovers by the Islanders — especially Nick Leddy — gave the Penguins a plethora of opportunities to control the pace of the game; which they did.
The Boys from Long Island were unable to generate much in the way of offense as they were outshot 15-6 12-minutes into the first period. The Nassaumen did manage to keep up the physicality from Game One as they outhit the Penguins 13-10 during that same timeframe. But hits don’t mean anything if they don’t help lead to goals.
Then, 13:07 into the period, Jeff Carter doubled Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-0 as the Isles — mainly Ryan Pulock — lost him in coverage and he slid the puck between Varlamov’s legs. Again, the Islanders’ uncharacteristic defensive woes that showed up in Game One, continued into Game Two and that’s a problem that needs solving; especially if Varlamov isn’t going to be perfect.
By the time the first period ended, Tristan Jarry had flipped the script from Game One by making a couple decent saves, while the Isles goalie was the shaky one. (Yes, was Varlamov instead of Sorokin).
On to Period Two and the Boys from Long Island came out with a little something extra. Ryan Pulock joined the rush and tipped a shot on goal that forced Jarry to make a nice save. Unfortunately, that brief spurt of momentum didn’t last as Oliver Wahlstrom was called for tripping Bryan Rust moments later and the Isles headed to their first penalty-kill of the game.
A successful PK followed, but as soon as the game returned to five-on-five, Pittsburgh went back on the attack and the Islanders again looked lost on the ice.
Mere moments later, Wahlstrom drew the attention of the Refs again as he was sent back to the Sin Bin, this time for roughing Jake Guentzel. The Isles were again able to kill off the penalty and seemed more comfortable playing short-handed than they did at even-strength.
Roughly a minute-and-a-half after killing off the Wahlstrom roughing penalty, the Isles rookie was sent back to the box for the third time in the period, again for roughing, but he at least got Kris Letang sent to the box for roughing as well; which resulted in a four-on-four situation.
Neither team scored during the four-on-four and moments after getting back to five-on-five (at the 14:44 mark to be precise), Josh Bailey finished off a hard-working shift for the Islanders and shot the puck past Tristan Jarry’s glove to cut the deficit to 2-1. On the play, Bailey’s backhand shot was roofed over Jarry’s glove — remember Game One — and then some extracurriculars followed a couple shifts later when Brandon Tanev dove into Varlamov while attempting to score.
The fracas resulted in more four-on-four play, which led to some wide open skating and chances for both sides, but as soon as things went back to five-on-five the game settled back down.
That’s how things remained as the second period came to a close. And then it was on to the third period with the Islanders trailing 2-1.
The third period opened innocently with a Sidney Crosby shot that was gloved by Varlamov, however, things got heated the following shift when J.G. Pageau pushed a falling Brian Dumoulin into the boards and forced the Penguins’ defensemen to go down the tunnel to be checked by the medical staff.
New York attempted and failed to get things going on offense — outside of a couple lone chances against Jarry — and were outshot 40-34 with 8:38 to go in the final period of regulation play. However, the Nassaumen did outhot the Penguins 41-34 through that same amount of game time.
If there was one turn around for the Islanders down the stretch in the third, it was that Semyon Varlamov found his form and stood on his head to give his teammates every opportunity to tie the game. In the end, it wasn’t enough though as the Isles fell 2-1; even a late power-play opportunity on a Rust closing the hand on the puck penalty could not jumpstart the Islanders offense.
Now the Boys from Long Island head home to Uniondale for Game Three, where they hope their faithful fans can provide the energy necessary to retake the lead in this now tied series.
The Isles went 0-for-1 on the power-play and 2-for-2 on the penalty-kill.
Game 3 — Thursday May 20th Islanders vs Penguins at Nassau Coliseum at 7:00pm(EST).
TV: NBCSN, MSG, MSG +, SN360
Radio: 88.7FM WRHU