The Penguins entered Game 2 with the perfect script.
They were coming off a 5-0 shellacking of the Islanders in Game 1. The Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby, returned after missing the past 13 games (12 regular season, one playoff). And Pittsburgh jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 3:19 minutes into the game on a crowd-roaring goal by Crosby.
It appeared as though the Penguins would be waltzing into New York with a 2-0 series lead.
But the Islanders weren’t willing participants in that role.
The Islanders shrugged off 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to secure a 4-3 victory Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center that evened the opening round series at 1-1.
Despite the Penguins’ early 2-0 lead, and their 3-1 advantage seven minutes into the game, the Islanders really were the better team in the opening period.
New York peppered the Penguins’ net with shots, ending the 20 minutes with a 20-12 advantage. The Islanders tilted the ice in their favor with zone time. But most glaring were the mistakes the Penguins were making: turnovers, bad passes, poor execution.
“A lot of it is just managing the puck better,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Too many turnovers. When you turn the puck over in the neutral zone that gives them a lot of open ice to free wheel, make plays and come after you.”
Those issues carried over into the second period as the Islanders recorded 14 more shots and started to steal the momentum. New York threw every puck toward the net, and eventually their relentlessness and hard work paid off (with a little help from the backboards).
Colin McDonald found a puck behind the net and somehow sneaked it past Marc-Andre Fleury, who was tucked against the post. Halfway through the second period Matt Martin won a foot race to a puck off the end boards and batted it into the goal beyond an outstretched Fleury.
The Penguins corrected some of their puck management issues in the third period. But at that point the contest became an even affair and could have gone either way.
After 12 minutes of play, the puck found its way into the Penguins’ goal. Kyle Okposo’s shot went off the backboards and caromed off Fleury and slid over the goal line. For those scoring at home, that’s one goal and two assists for the end boards.
The Penguins did what they could in the final minutes of play. But the Islanders defense went into shutdown mode and secured the win.
And just like that, we’ve got ourselves a best-of-five series.
On the one hand, the Penguins played a very poor game and still only lost by one goal. On the other hand, the Penguins need to correct those mistakes before they become habits.
The inexperienced Islanders are only going to get better as the series goes on. They are far from pushovers. They proved that in Game 2. Nassau Coliseum will be rocking Sunday afternoon in Game 3 for Long Island’s first playoff game there since 2007.
But the Penguins, when they’re outworking their opponent and playing smart, are nearly impossible to beat. Their mistakes were self-inflicted. They need to clean up those issues, and clean them up fast.
“It’s the playoffs. You lose games sometimes,” Crosby said. “We have to make sure we learn pretty quickly from this one, though. It’s not the way we want to play and we definitely have room to improve.”