The New York Islanders saw their 2013 season come to an end Saturday.
The Islanders led three times in regulation, but it was Brooks Orpik’s goal 7:49 into overtime that ended Game 6, a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum, giving the Penguins a four games to two series victory.
The Islanders surged through March and April with a 16-6-5 record to earn their first playoff appearance since 2007. The team battled back from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits to even the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at two games a piece, before dropping the final two contests.
His third season with the Islanders now complete, Head Coach Jack Capuano talked about the pride the players brought back to the franchise, which exceeded outside expectations all season and series long.
“We were right there,” Capuano said. “There's nothing as a coaching staff that we can walk in the room and say that can ease the pain and disappointment they feel right now. We took huge strides as an organization. Not many people gave us a chance to get where we got. They put it on the line every game that they played. We're extremely proud of the guys.”
Five minutes after the opening puck drop, Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares put his thumbprint on the game. Following an extended attack, the center put the Islanders up 1-0 to send the sellout crowd of 16,170 at Nassau Coliseum into an “M-V-P” chant. Josh Bailey backhanded a pass from the corner to Tavares in the slot, and he wristed it past Tomas Vokoun’s glove.
It took just two minutes, however, for the Penguins to level the score. Sidney Crosby drove around the defense and backhanded a shot into Evgeni Nabokov, before Jarome Iginla knocked the rebound past the sprawled out goaltender at 7:39.
The Islanders continued to get good offensive chances, outshooting Pittsburgh 11-5 in the first period, and it finally paid off with Colin McDonald’s second goal of the postseason. Michael Grabner forced the puck from behind the Penguins goal to Keith Aucoin, who wasted no time in sending it across the slot to McDonald for one touch to make the score 2-1 with 37 seconds left in the opening frame.
The Islanders brought that momentum into the middle period, taking the first nine shots of the stanza, but Pittsburgh drew even at two. Pascal Dupuis attacked the net hard and received a Joe Vitale pass in front, beating Nabokov at 10:59.
The home team continued to pump shots at Vokoun throughout the rest of the frame, but the Penguins netminder stopped all 16 Islanders attempts, as Pittsburgh killed off all three Islanders power plays during the period.
Just before the second intermission, Crosby, working from behind the Islanders net, set up Chris Kunitz for a one-timer in the right circle. Nabokov cut off the angle and absorbed the puck, sending the game to the third tied 2-2.
Early in the third act, Grabner gave the Islanders another lead. Aucoin intercepted a pass just inside the Penguins blue line and had a 2-on-1 with Grabner. Aucoin faked a shot and passed to his winger, who one-timed it past Vokoun.
It was the first goal of the playoffs for Grabner, who ranked second on the team with 16 during the regular season. It marked Aucoin’s second assist of the game and third of the series.
But Pittsburgh countered once again, this time in the form of a Paul Martin tally to even the score at 3-3. Evgeni Malkin wrapped around behind the New York net and delivered a pass to the defenseman, who teed up a one-timer that hit Nabokov’s glove and then the cross-bar before hitting twine at 14:44.
Both teams had chances to end the contest in overtime, but it was Orpik who one-timed Tyler Kennedy’s feed from the left side, hitting the cross-bar and the goal post on its way in through traffic at the 7:49 mark, sending Pittsburgh on to the next round, where they will face the Ottawa Senators.
The Coliseum crowd showed their appreciation, continuing to chant in support of the home team until after the post-series handshake.
Following the game, a disappointed Tavares talked about the learning curve in the Islanders room. Tavares was one of 15 players on the roster to make his postseason debut in the series.
“I think we’re going to learn a lot about what it takes to be in the playoffs, to get to the playoffs,” Tavares said. “Hopefully, were going to understand that it’s going to take even more to win a series. It’s still tough to take it all in right now. It’s just disappointing. We wanted to play tomorrow and into June.”
Grabner said being able to examine the positives of the season and look ahead to the bright future would take some time following the tough loss.
“I think we all put it out there and I’m really proud to be a part of this team,” Grabner said. “We worked as hard as we could all year, and everyone left it out there on the ice. I wasn’t really prepared to speak about being eliminated. I believed in my heart that we were going to go back to Pittsburgh and have another game tomorrow. We have to wait a couple weeks, let it sink in, and look at the positives of this season.”
Notes: The Islanders went 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Penguins went 0-for-1 … Lubomir Visnovsky had a team-high 26:19 of ice time and four blocked shots … The Islanders outshot Pittsburgh 38-21, including a 28-13 margin over the first 40 minutes … The Islanders out-hit the Penguins 31-23, led by Matt Martin’s series-high 11 … The Islanders won 44-of-73 faceoffs, and were led by John Tavares (16-of-24, 67%) … Brock Nelson made his NHL debut, registering a hit in 7:44 of ice time.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
Pascal Dupuis - 87 Sidney Crosby - 12 Jarome Iginla
18 James Neal - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 14 Chris Kunitz
10 Brenden Morrow - 16 Brandon Sutter - 24 Matt Cooke
27 Craig Adams - 46 Joe Vitale - 48 Tyler Kennedy
58 Kris Letang - 47 Simon Despres
44 Brooks Orpik - 7 Paul Martin
2 Matt Niskanen - 3 Douglas Murray
92 Tomas Vokoun
29 Marc-Andre Fleury