They say one of the most difficult leads to hold in the game of hockey is 3-1.
The New York Islanders proved that on Friday after trailing by that margin and scored three unanswered goals to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 and tie the series 1-1 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Kyle Okposo scored the go-ahead goal at 12:23 of the third period when the puck bounced off the end board and banked off Marc-Andre Fleury’s skate and into the back of the net.
After being routed 5-0 in Game 1, New York outshot Pittsburgh 42-33 and 20-12 in the first period alone.
“We don’t mind giving up shots from the outside,” Craig Adams said in the postgame. “But they were getting a lot of pucks to the net with bodies in front and they had a lot of deflections, they could have had a lot more goals than they did.”
It seemed as though Sidney Crosby did not miss a beat in his return after missing the last month with a broken jaw. He scored two goals on eight shots and logged 23:22 on the ice.
When asked about his condition on the ice, the Penguins’ captain felt there was still some rust to work off.
“There’s not a lot of time so I’ve got to find a way to create things out there and be better,” Crosby said.
It only took 43 seconds into the game for the Penguins to get on the board when Evgeni Malkin poked in a loose puck around the net to give them a 1-0 lead. It was Malkin’s (and Crosby’s) first career goal against Evgeni Nabokov.
After Crosby scored his first goal, Matt Moulson scored at 7:04 to give New York their first goal in the series.
Just 18 seconds later, Crosby answered with his second of the game to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead when he shot the puck into a wide open net on a sharp angle.
Defenseman Mark Eaton explained that there was no room for the Penguins to breathe easy after the first.
“By no means when we were up 3-1 did we think the game was over,” Eaton said. “It’s the playoffs, you never put your feet up.”
The second period silenced the crowd at the Consol Energy Center as the Islanders scored a pair of goals to tie it 3-3.
Matt Martin scored on a similar play which led to Okposo’s goal as the puck ricocheted off Fleury, who made 38 saves in the loss.
The Islanders gained continuous momentum as the game progressed despite trailing 3-1 after the first period.
The Penguins got a chance to gain momentum back at the end of the second period when JohnTaveres received a double-minor for high-sticking. The penalty, which carried into the third period perhaps served as New York’s final drive in their impressive comeback.
“They forced some turnovers and we didn’t manage the puck very well,” Crosby said. “When you turn it over, they get zone time and it’s tough to play offense, that’s the way the playoffs are so we’ve got to make sure we’re better.”
New York also had 19 shots blocked by the Pittsburgh defense which could have led to their impressive total of 42. Yet, not only did they play well on the attack, also by moving north and south. This showed a great effort in getting out of their own zone quickly, catching the Penguins’ defense on their back foot.
“We definitely didn’t play the way we needed to,” Eaton said. “They played a much stronger game today and we knew they were going to come at us with their best. It’s 1-1 now, we knew it was going to be a tough series so we’re going to have to win some games in Long Island.”
Pittsburgh played without James Neal and Brooks Orpik. Both status’ are still not certain for Game 3 which will be in New York Sunday.
Ekiert’s three stars:
3. Matt Moulson; LW, Islanders- Goal, assist
2. Sidney Crosby; C, Penguins- 2 goals
1. Kyle Okposo; RW, Islanders- GW Goal