After being shutout in Game 1 at Pittsburgh, the Islanders had to shake things up.
Throughout the regular season, Jack Capuano didn’t experiment with a lot of forward line combinations, so the line juggling he did in Game 2 was a surprise to many. Matt Moulson, who has played alongside John Tavares for almost every game over the past four seasons, was moved onto a unit with Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. Josh Bailey joined Tavares and Brad Boyes on the top line.
The result was a 4-3 victory, as well as an all-around improved effort, that evened up the series at a game apiece and shifted home ice advantage into the Islanders favor.
“We scored two goals in the last three games,” Capuano said, factoring the last two games of the regular season. ”Going down the stretch, [a lineup change] was something that we had been thinking about for a while. There’s not a lot of time when you’re in a series to be very patient. You have to find what’s clicking. Even during the course of a game, if we have to make changes right off the bat, we will.”
The Islanders cranked 20 shots in the opening period and maintained pressure throughout, outshooting the Penguins 42-33 overall. Moulson credited the line change, as well as the wake-up call of a Game 1 shutout, for the turnaround Friday.
“I don’t know if that was the sole cause of it, but sometimes a little change is good,” Moulson said. “I think just knowing how big a game it was, guys played individually a lot better than we did in the first game. I don’t think any of us had really good performances in Game 1, and we wanted to come out and make sure that didn’t happen again.”
The only game this season that Tavares and Moulson didn’t play on the same line was April 6 vs. Tampa Bay, the night Moulson was scratched with the flu. The winger, who paced the team with 29 assists during the regular season, said that it took a few shifts Friday to get used to playing with different line mates.
“When you play with a line for the whole year, you get to know each other really well,” Moulson said. “Just getting to know the little tendencies with each guy makes a big difference.”
The 29-year-old responded to the challenge by earning First Star honors with a goal and an assist on Okposo’s game-winning tally. His hard charge toward the net forced Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to lose control of the puck. Moulson had a front row seat as Okposo’s game-winner crossed the line.
“Okie put it off the boards and I tried to get to the net,” Moulson said. “I was hoping it was going to pop out or go to the side, but Fleury hid it, and as I was skating past the net, I could see it trickling past the goal line.”
Likewise, Bailey provided some jump to his new line. He registered 20:19 of ice time, his second-highest total of the season. The Bailey-Tavares-Boyes trio combined for 23 shot attempts, including 13 on goal.
“They’re pretty easy guys to play with - Johnny and Brad are tremendous players,” Bailey said. “No matter who I’m playing with, it doesn’t change my job individually. I still have to do a lot of the same things. Obviously the coaching staff was looking for something to shake things up. It seemed to work last night.”
Tavares bounced back from a disappointing Game 1, generating several scoring chances and earning his first postseason point: a power play assist in the first period.
“It was obviously different playing with Josh, but he brings a lot of creativity and he’s played great for us down the stretch,” Tavares said. “We created some good plays and made ourselves tough to defend. I think everybody up and down the lineup had more scoring chances.”
As usual, Capuano isn’t tipping his hand on if he will go with the same lines in Sunday’s Game 3. With a chance to take a series lead, he won’t be afraid to make whatever changes he feels necessary at any stage of the game.
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