In a game of extreme emotional swings, the Pittsburgh Penguins collected themselves at just the right time.
After the Penguins squandered a 4-2 third-period lead and appeared on the verge of falling behind in the series, Sidney Crosby drew a penalty in overtime and set up Chris Kunitz’ game-winning power-play goal, pushing Pittsburgh past the New York Islanders 5-4 on Sunday afternoon at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Pens now lead the best-of-seven first-round Stanley Cup series 2-1.
Kunitz (two goals, assist) and Crosby (three assists) combined for six points as the Penguins overcame a 2-0 deficit in the opening six minutes to score four straight and take control. However, the Islanders got final-period goals from Kyle Okposo and John Tavares to force overtime, both coming after Pittsburgh attempted risky cross-ice passes at the New York blue line.
It was that kind of undisciplined play that helped the eighth-seeded Islanders come back from 3-1 down to take Game 2 Friday night in Pittsburgh. Fortunately for the Penguins, they played their best hockey of Sunday in sudden-death, meaning they will have a chance to snag a 3-1 series lead in Tuesday night’s Game 4 on Long Island.
After Tavares tied the game at 4 with 9:12 to play in regulation, the Islanders continued to buzz around the Penguins goal and netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, but Pittsburgh regained its balance in the OT period. Following a few minutes of controlled offensive-zone play for the Penguins, Crosby forced former teammate Brian Strait to pull him down on the way to the net, lest Crosby get a point-blank shot.
The Penguins connected on the resulting power play when Crosby, taking a Paul Martin pass along the goal line, fed Kunitz in the low slot for the game-ending one-timer. The shot deflected off the cuff of Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov’s glove and into the roof of the net, giving the Penguins a dramatic victory 8:44 into the extra frame.
Fitting that the power play won the game for the Penguins since it also got them back in the contest late in the first period. The Islanders burst out of the gate in their first home playoff game in six years, with Matt Moulson and Casey Cizikas striking four minutes apart to give New York five straight goals in the series.
The Islanders lost their cool in the latter half of the period, as defensemen Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic took back-to-back penalties. The Penguins responded when Iginla redirected Kris Letang’s point shot during an extended two-man advantage. 19 seconds later, Evgeni Malkin dished a breakaway pass to Kunitz, who beat Nabokov for the equalizer during the ensuing 5-on-4 power play.
The Penguins were outshot 13-8 in the first, but a bit of Crosby brilliance helped them head to the intermission ahead 3-2. The Pittsburgh captain, in his second game back from sitting out a month due to a broken jaw, charged down the right wing and shoveled a backhand pass to Pascal Dupuis for his third goal of the series with exactly one minute remaining.
Defensive-minded blueliner Douglas Murray stretched the Penguins’ edge to 4-2 with 2:50 remaining in the second. Malkin earned his second assist when he stopped in the right corner and located the pinching Murray for a surprising top-shelf wrister from the left circle.
The finish line was within reach, but Pittsburgh inexplicably regressed to the high-risk style of play that cost them not only Game 2, but also last spring’s helter-skelter first-round series against Philadelphia. With the Penguins on another power play early in the third, Brenden Morrow fired a crossrink pass behind Mark Eaton at the point, directly leading to Okposo’s breakaway goal at 5:31.
Five minutes later, Kunitz put a blemish on his strong game when he turned the puck over in the neutral zone. The resulting Islanders rush culminated in Tavares’ first career postseason goal, as the young star gunned a right-circle wrister past Fleury, who was otherwise quite good in stopping 32 shots.
Despite the win, the Penguins will once again face some soul-searching as they succumbed to the Islanders’ preferred run-and-gun style and were outshot 36-25. Recovering late will take the edge off that harsh reality, but the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is looking unexpectedly vulnerable through three playoff games.
Opening faceoff for Game 4 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern at Nassau Coliseum.