John Tavares’ first-career postseason goal sent a see-saw contest into overtime, but Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz scored nine minutes into the extra session, handing the Islanders a 5-4 loss in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Nassau Coliseum. The Penguins took a 2-1 lead in the series, which remains on Long Island for Game 4.
The Penguins totaled three power-play goals, including two from Kunitz, and erased an early 2-0 Islanders lead. The Islanders battled back from a two-goal deficit of their own in the third period to force overtime.
“It was a good hockey game,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “It had a good flow. It was quick, it was physical. At the end of the day you always talk about special teams being a big factor and tonight that was the difference. They scored three power play goals. In special teams they got the edge tonight and that's why they won the game.”
Matt Moulson put the Islanders on the board just 1:43 into the contest with his second goal of the series. Kyle Okposo took a couple of whacks at a loose puck in front of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but it was Moulson who finally chipped it over the backstop and across the goal line.
Four minutes later, Casey Cizikas lit the lamp on a one-timer to make the score 2-0. Michael Grabner retrieved a dump-in and made a great pass from behind the Pittsburgh net to a wide-open Cizikas. The rookie blasted a shot past Fleury at 5:41.
With two Islanders in the box later in the period, Jarome Iginla tipped Kris Letang’s shot from the right point to bring the Penguins within one at the 13:38 mark. Just 19 seconds later and still on the power play, Kunitz got behind the Islanders defense on a home run pass from Evgeni Malkin and tied the score on the breakaway.
Pittsburgh’s two quick power play conversions turned the tide for the rest of the afternoon.
“With the 5-on-3 they got back in the game,” Nabokov said. “It seems like every time we go down two men we don't win hockey games. We have to find a way to stay out of the box as much as possible. I thought other than that we played really well.”
Before the end of the period, Pittsburgh gained a 3-2 lead, as Sidney Crosby centered a hard pass to Pascal Dupuis, who punched it over Nabokov for his team-leading third tally of the postseason.
Douglas Murray doubled the Penguins lead late in the second period after some confusion on an Islanders line change. Malkin found the defenseman with space across the zone, and the veteran blueliner’s shot went high over Nabokov’s glove at the 17:10 mark.
Late in the second period, the Islanders seemed to swing the special teams edge back in their favor. They killed off a Matt Martin holding penalty late in the middle frame, despite having the puck hemmed in their zone for most of the two minutes and Andrew MacDonald breaking his stick early on.
Early in the third, they used another penalty kill to climb back into the game.
Brian Strait went to the box for hooking at 3:50 of the third stanza. But during the ensuing 4-on-5, Frans Nielsen’s pass from the boards met Okposo streaking toward the Pittsburgh blue line. With a defender close behind him, Okposo wristed a shot past Fleury to cut the deficit to 4-3, electrifying the home crowd.
As he did so often during the regular season, Tavares scored in the third period, tying the contest and eventually sending it to overtime. Tavares and Josh Bailey attacked in transition, and the center stepped into his wrist shot, firing his first-career playoff goal into the back of the net at 10:48.
“Bailes gave me a wide pass,” Tavares said. “I thought the D was sitting a little deep so I didn't want to challenge him wide. I just tried to give a little hesitation, use him as a screen a bit. I was just happy I was able to get a really good shot off. I got a lot on it.”
The game remained tied through regulation, despite a scare when Murray hit the cross-bar in the final two minutes.
The Penguins went to the power play again in overtime, as Strait was sent to the penalty box after defending Crosby to the ice. Paul Martin fed the puck low to Crosby along the goal line and the Pittsburgh captain spotted Kunitz in the left circle for a one-timer that went in off the iron.
With a chance to battle back from a 2-1 series deficit, Capuano said his club is far from hitting the panic button.
“We've bounced back all year,” Capuano said. “I know the resiliency of these guys and the way they've battled. We were down two goals in the third period and came back strong. We'll prepare again for next game and I know our guys will work hard.”
The Islanders have a chance to knot the series again in Game 4, Tuesday, May 7 at Nassau Coliseum.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 9 Pascal Dupuis
19 Beau Bennett - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 12 Jarome Iginla
10 Brenden Morrow - 16 Brandon Sutter - 24 Matt Cooke
15 Tanner Glass - 36 Jussi Jokinen - 27 Craig Adams
4 Mark Eaton - 58 Kris Letang
7 Paul Martin - 3 Douglas Murray
2 Matt Niskanen - 5 Deryk Engelland
29 Marc-Andre Fleury
92 Tomas Vokoun