Kyle Okposo’s wild third-period goal proved to be the game-winner, as the New York Islanders climbed out of two separate multiple-goal deficits to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at CONSOL Energy Center.
Trailing 3-1 in the second period, the Islanders rallied for three unanswered goals, all involving bounces from behind Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Okposo, who also registered his first career fighting major to spark the comeback, Matt Moulson, Colin McDonald and Matt Martin all scored their first career playoff goals in the win, evening the series at one game apiece as it heads back to Nassau Coliseum for Games 3 and 4.
“We had our legs going,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “After the first period, we had 20 shots on net. You could tell we were playing our game. Our guys are relentless. It only takes a couple shots to get back in the game. I knew if we continued to play the way we did in the first period, we would get on the score board and have some kind of success throughout the game.”
The Penguins scored just 43 seconds in on Evgeni Malkin’s first goal of the postseason. After Malkin cut from behind the net, Jarome Iginla fed him the puck across the slot before the centerman scored on his own rebound opportunity.
Sidney Crosby, playing in his first game since March 30, doubled the Penguins advantage on the power play at 3:19. After a point shot was deflected off the glass behind Evgeni Nabokov, Iginla found Crosby on the doorstep for an easy goal.
The Islanders used a power play to their advantage four minutes later, where Moulson scored the Islanders first goal of the series. Mark Streit and John Tavares worked the puck down low on the right wing to Moulson. The winger centered a pass toward Brad Boyes, but it glanced off a defenseman’s stick and in at 7:04.
Just 18 seconds later, Crosby made the game 3-1 with his second marker of the period. He picked up a rebound from a sharp angle while wrapping around the goal and wristed it top shelf.
The second period showed plenty of physicality, beginning with a Kyle Okposo-Matt Niskanen bout behind the play. In the first fight of his NHL career, Okposo landed a pair of hard rights, drawing blood from the Penguins defenseman before the two toppled to the ice.
Fourteen seconds after the tilt, McDonald scored to make it 3-2. Keith Aucoin pressed the issue on a forecheck, and a fluttering puck was gloved down by McDonald behind the net. The 28-year-old chipped it off the goal line, banking it off of Fleury’s pads and snuck it past the netminder at 5:12.
The physicality continued in the ninth minute of the stanza, when Brian Strait finished a check on Crosby in the Penguins zone. Iginla retaliated and was called for boarding.
Just 21 seconds after Iginla’s minor expired, Martin scored his first career postseason goal to even the score. Josh Bailey’s shot from the high slot caromed off the end boards and onto Martin’s stick on the left side. Martin slapped at the puck and placed it just over the goal line at 10:37.
“I think we responded after that,” Okposo said about his earlier fight. “We scored a couple of big goals in the second period there and took the momentum. We put them back on their heels and we played well.”
Tavares was called for a double-minor hi-sticking penalty late in the second period, sending the Penguins to an extended power play. Pittsburgh had a chance to break the tie in the final minute, but Crosby hit a post and Malkin’s follow-up attempt was pushed wide. Seconds later, Nabokov made a save on Crosby, and the Islanders killed the rest of the penalty.
After allowing three goals on the first nine shots, Nabokov shut the door over the last 52:38, turning aside the last 24 Penguins attempts on goal.
“Any time you fall behind 2-0 or more, the next stop is important,” Nabokov said. “That’s all I was trying to do, was to stop the next one, and the one after that. I just have to worry about the next shot in that situation.”
Twelve minutes into the third period, the Islanders took their first lead of the series. Okposo’s shot from high in the zone caromed off the boards behind Fleury and got tangled up in the goaltenders skates. Moulson applied pressure, and the puck wound up in the back of the net, putting the Islanders ahead 4-3.
The Islanders kept their foot on the gas pedal through the end, forcing Fleury to stay in his goal well after the Penguins tried to get him to the bench for an extra attacker. Pittsburgh gave one final push, but the Islanders were able to clear the puck as time expired, sealing the victory.
John Tavares, who rebounded from a zero shot performance in Game 1 to attempt 12 shots (six on goal) and earn an assist, offered his take on the come-from-behind effort after the game.
“We’ve had a few wins like that, where we had a slow start and battled back,” Tavares said. “That’s been the story of our season. We had a great second half of the game. We really brought it, and found a way to get it done. That was a big win for us, and we’re looking forward to getting back home in front of our fans.”
Game 3 comes back to Nassau Coliseum this Sunday, May 5, at noon. Three of the five remaining games in the series, if necessary, will be played on Long Island.
Notes: The Islanders out-shot the Penguins 42-33, including 20-12 in the first period … John Tavares led the team with six shots on goal, followed by Frans Nielsen’s five … Both teams went 1-for-4 on the power play … Mark Streit got the secondary assist on Okposo’s game-winning goal, and finished with two assists … Andrew MacDonald led the team with 24:52 of ice time, and finished with a game-high four blocked shots … The Islanders out-hit the Penguins 31-28, paced by Hamonic’s six … The Islanders lost the faceoff battle 36-23, but Tavares took 15-of-24 (63%) in the circle.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin