Sunday, May 5, 2013
Nassau has energy, but Pens have power
By Katie Strang
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- A deafening crowd at Nassau Coliseum, frenzied by a late-game comeback and bolstered at the prospect of an upset, was a veritable seventh man for the New York Islanders in Game 3, but the home team couldn't hold off the Penguins and their dominant power play Sunday.
Picking up his third assist of the game, Sidney Crosby set up Chris Kunitz in the slot for the power-play game winner 8:34 into overtime as the Penguins edged the Islanders 5-4 to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
It was a wild, wide-open game filled with end-to-end action and a dizzying sense of intensity, but the veteran group from Pittsburgh managed the momentum swings and exploited its strength with one of the most formidable special-teams units in the league.
Boasting the likes of Crosby, Kunitz, Kris Letang, Jarome Iginla and Evgeni Malkin on the first unit, Pittsburgh's power play was the difference in the game. The Penguins were 3-for-5 on the man-advantage to swing the series in their favor.
Casey Cizikas' first-period goal had Islanders fans on their feet.
"They're lethal," said Islanders star John Tavares, who tied the game late in the third. "They have a lot of weapons."
It was Crosby, in his second game back after missing more than a month with a fractured jaw, who drew the penalty in the overtime period, a holding call against Islanders defenseman Brian Strait.
Asked which of Crosby's three assists was the most impressive, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma referenced that play as his best contribution.
"The best setup he had was drawing the penalty," Bylsma said. "That's kind of typical of what Sidney Crosby can do."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano was not thrilled over that call, but the fact that Crosby was supremely effective for the Penguins was not debatable. That much was apparent when he powered past Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to seamlessly set up Pascal Dupuis in the first period for the Penguins' third straight goal after the Islanders took an early 2-0 lead.
But even against arguably the world's best player, the Islanders threatened throughout the game, outplaying the Penguins five-on-five for significant stretches as the crowd lifted the team and provided the jolt of energy needed to sustain pressure against Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Islanders did their best to rattle Fleury early in the game, tallying twice within the first six minutes of play -- first on a goal by Matt Moulson after a scramble in front, then on Casey Cizikas' shot from the left circle at 5:41.
The teeth-rattling din that resulted from the early lead was silenced quickly by the Penguins' resilient response later in the frame.
Iginla got a piece of Letang's one-timer with the Penguins on the 5-on-3, and Kunitz snuck behind the Islanders' defense for a breakaway for another power-play goal just 19 seconds later.
"Obviously, they're pretty dynamic," said Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald. "It's frustrating to give up that many [power-play] goals. That's the game right there."
"You know going into the series that special teams are gonna play huge, as they always do," MacDonald continued. "Right now, they have the upper hand on the power play. It's something for us that we're going to have to address on the penalty kill."
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In the second period, the Islanders fell behind down 4-2 before a third-period surge in which they notched two goals to push the game into overtime. Power forward Kyle Okposo made a sensational move to handle a pass from Frans Nielsen, stay onside, and unleash a wicked wrister to beat Fleury on a short-handed breakaway 5:31 into the final frame. Then Tavares sizzled one past Fleury from the right circle to knot the game at 4 as the crowd erupted into chants of "M-V-P!"
That spirited rally was snuffed out with Kunitz's game-winner 8:44 into overtime, but the Islanders have weathered enough to know this series is not over.
An embarrassing 5-0 loss in Game 1 was the Islanders' welcome to the 2013 playoffs, their first postseason appearance since 2007, but they did not allow that to stifle their hopes. A come-from-behind, 4-3 win in Game 2 affirmed their confidence in competing against the top-seeded Penguins. New York's performance in Game 3 only furthers that belief, which has always existed in the Islanders' dressing room but has been absent pretty much everywhere else.
They are still in this thing. And they have another game at home on Tuesday, when they'll try to even the series at two games apiece.
"We're right there," Tavares said. "We've just got to get our work boots back on tomorrow, refocus, and Game 4 [is] a big game for us. We believe in ourselves in here and I think we've proven that all year. We've battled a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs. This is part of playoff hockey."