Since the Islanders-Penguins game on February 11 became a thing of legend, the word “rematch” had hovered around last night’s game at Nassau Coliseum. After two fights in the first period, one could wonder if that’s the way things were headed. But the momentum changed midway through the second period, and the Islanders forced the game into a shootout. Ultimately, Chris Kunit’s goal in the shootout handed the Islanders a 4-3 loss.
“I thought we played an excellent hockey game tonight,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “I couldn’t have asked any more from the guys that were dressed tonight. It [the Penguins] was a team that was hungry, was battling in the standings, jockeying for home ice and position. Our kids battled and played extremely well today.”
The sellout crowd erupted at Travis Hamonic’s score-tying slap shot from the point. With just 35 seconds remaining in regulation, his goal tied the score at three and forced the extra session.
“We sustained pressure down there and everyone on the bench and our team really had a feeling we would get one,” Hamonic said. “Someone was going to step up and someone was going to pull through. It didn’t matter who it was.”
Blake Comeau #57 of the New York Islanders celebrtes his goal at 8:14 of the third period along with Michael Grabner #40 in their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum on April 8, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Penguins defeated the Islanders 4-3 in the shoot out. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Hamonic continued, (Kyle) Okoposo did a good job at point, luring two guys over and shuffle passing that one over to me, put it right in my wheel house. Those are shots we do over and over again in practice and you hope you finally connect in a game. I guess I had God on my side going in there.”
The Islanders defenseman played a team-high 28:54, had a goal and an assist, and three hits – this all coming from a 20-year-old rookie who has made the most of his opportunity on Long Island.
“We pretty much went with five defensemen tonight,” Capuano said. “Jamie (Doornbosch) got a few shifts there, but Travis has really come into his own and he’s playing hard. Even when he makes mistakes, nothing bothers him. He has good mental toughness and battles back.”
The play by the Islanders young defensive core just goes to show what promise this team will bring into the future of the franchise.
While the defense played a major role, the entire team placed their heart into their final home contest. They weren’t recorded as goals, but with momentum on their side, Matt Moulson and Mark Katic both put pucks over the goal line in the crucial final minutes.
First, Moulson’s goal with 1:38 remaining was disallowed as John Tavares was in the crease and then Katic’s saucer crossed the line after the final seconds on the score board reached zero.
“I knew the clock had run out on Katic’s late there, but the other one I guess the only explanation was that he (Tavares) was in the crease,” Capuano said. “I haven’t seen it yet. Again, we battled right to the end against a really good hockey team. It shows why they are Stanley Cup champions.”
To get the score within one goal, Blake Comeau consecutively put up his 23rd and 24th goals of the season. At 15:58 of the second period, Jesse Joensuu fired a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury, Moulson went in for the rebound and Comeau went to the paint for the third and final attempt.
His second of the night was a power play goal at 8:14 of the third. Michael Grabner brought the puck down the left side of the offensive zone, wrapped around the back of the net and passed through the crease to Comeau for the one-timer.
But the game wasn’t all Islanders. The Penguins took an early lead as Michael Rupp slid one past Islanders goaltender Al Montoya at 8:57 of the first. Zbynek Michalek increased the differential 2-0 when he scored a power play goal at 11:11 of the second.
After Comeau’s two unanswered goals, Mark Letestu scored at 12:21 of the third period to take back the lead 3-2. That’s until Hamonic tied the score with 35 seconds remaining in regulation.
The goaltending played a major role in the contest. Montoya and Fleury each made 35 saves through 65 minutes. Then in the shootout, Kunitz found the back of the net on the Penguins third shot, lifting them to the win.
Eric Godard #28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins fights with Trevor Gillies #14 of the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on April 8, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Zenon Konopka and Trevor Gillies both dropped the gloves in the first period, but Comeau said it had nothing to do with retaliation or bad blood between the teams. Instead, he said the team had decided “that this was just a hockey game” long before the puck ever dropped.
“There were some fights that went down, not anything to panic over, but the guys did a really good job tonight,” Comeau said. “(Trevor) Gillies and Z (Konopka) answered the bell when they had to. We knew that they (the Penguins) are trying to clinch the division and climb the standings and do what they had to do. So I think we put whatever happened in the past behind us and we were just trying to get our two points.”
The Islanders may have only come away with one point, but this was one game the young core couldn’t be disappointed with.