No one can say that the Penguins and Islanders didn’t leave it all on the ice in Game 3.
The two teams traded goals, shots, leads, saves, hits, scoring chances and wild swings of momentum in an up-and-down affair that needed 68:44 minutes of hockey to finally be decided.
In sudden death overtime and a 2-1 series lead as the prize, it was the Penguins – thanks to Chris Kunitz’s second power-play goal of the game – that pulled out a 5-4 victory.
“(Felt) really good to get the winner in overtime,” Kunitz said.
The Islanders opened the game in overdrive. Pumping off of the adrenaline of a rambunctious sold out crowd of 16,170 fans, many of whom have been waiting since 2007 for this moment, New York jumped out to a 2-0 lead 5:41 after the opening puck drop. The arena exploded as orange “BeLIeve” towels twirled.
“It was pretty emotional to be down that early,” said captain Sidney Crosby, who finished the day with three assists. “I thought we did a great job of staying with it.”
The Penguins responded late in the third period with two power-play goals 19-seconds apart to even the score at 2-2. Jarome Iginla tipped in a Kris Letang shot for his first goal of the playoffs. Kunitz tied the contest after scoring his first power-play goal of the game on a breakaway, thanks to a pretty breakout pass from Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins added two more goals from Pascal Dupuis and Douglas “Crankshaft” Murray (yes, you read that correctly) to carry a 4-2 lead into the third period.
The Islanders proved in Game 2 that they have an ability to come from behind. That was on display in the third period.
The Penguins had a power play early in the period and it looked like they might just blow the game open. But the Islanders took advantage of a pinching Matt Niskanen and Pittsburgh’s failure to rotate into position. Frans Nielsen picked up a Brenden Morrow pass and pushed the puck ahead to give Kyle Okposo a breakaway. He snapped a shot that make it 4-3.
John Tavares, who had been goal-less in the first eight periods of the series, picked a clutch time to come through for the Islanders. He carried the puck into the zone and pulled up above the far circle, sniping a shot to tie up the game, 4-4, with 9:12 to play.
“We aren’t pleased with giving up a two-goal lead in the third period,” Crosby said. “We can’t let that happen.”
The Penguins didn’t hang their heads at the intermission. Instead they refocused for the extra session.
“Going into overtime our mentality was good,” Crosby said. “We weren’t dwelling on the fact that they came back. We knew we had overtime to change the outcome and get the win.”
“A little bit of calmness,” Kunitz said of the mood. “Everyone was regrouping, knowing that we needed a good effort to get back into it after they got the building back into the game.”
The Penguins played aggressive in overtime. It was the Islanders that were on their heels. Or more apt, it was Brian Strait who was on Crosby’s heels. As the Penguins captain skated out of the corner with the puck, Strait pulled him to the ice. Pittsburgh was awarded a power play.
“In the overtime we were able to come out with a little bit more of an aggressive mindset, execute with the puck and get to the offensive zone,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s how we draw the penalty.”
The Penguins power play took care of the rest as Kunitz’s one-knee, one-timer in the slot capped the game and gave the Penguins 2-1 series lead.
“Whatever happened (in regulation), none of that mattered,” Crosby said. “We had overtime to get ourselves the win. We wanted to do that. That was our focus. I don’t think anyone was dwelling on the fact that we gave up the lead. We just came out and tried to find a way to get the win.
“We stayed composed and found a way.”