New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said following Monday’s victory over Calgary that, “no team wins all 60 minutes of a hockey game.” The lesson was evident on Wednesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who came back from a three-goal, third period deficit to tie the game before an Anders Lee goal with 26.6 seconds remaining led to an Isles’ 5-3 victory.
“I don’t feel like we blew the lead,” Capuano said. “The Penguins have a lot of skill. As we approach these games, we focus on the work ethic and our skills. We do not worry about the scoreboard. If we just continue to play hard, our guys will get rewarded.”
The thought of a Pittsburgh comeback appeared remote following a dominant performance by the Islanders during the first two periods. Facing an aggressive Penguins’ defense, Isles found success taking pucks to the front of the net and putting pressure on rookie goaltender Matt Murray.
After Shane Prince narrowly missed scoring two goals in the first period, former Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk gave the Isles a 1-0 lead on a goal from the point in the final minute before intermission. The Islanders continued dominating play in the second period with tallies from Jason Chimera and Casey Cizikas and created separation.
Following a solid performance in goal in his previous outing on Monday, Thomas Greiss was back behind the pipes against the Penguins and stopped the first 22 shots he faced against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Pens quickly refocused in the third period and collected their first goal 32 seconds into the third period on a Conor Sheary rebound in front of the net.
The goal became a confidence booster for the Penguins, who eventually tied the game on Evgeni Malkin’s ninth goal of the season with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation. Undaunted by the sudden turn of events, the Islanders continued to maintain focus and reclaimed the lead when Lee deflected a Thomas Hickey slapshot in the waning seconds of the third period. Nikolai Kulemin recorded an empty-netter off the ensuing faceoff to assure the Isles’ second consecutive win.
“We have given points away, that we shouldn’t have, but tonight we didn’t,” Boychuk said. “It is a much-needed win. Sometimes, things just do not go your way. A lot of people thought we would have trouble putting it away again in the third period, but we kept doing the right things and eventually the right thing happen with Anders’s goal.”
“Anders is probably one of the best net-front guys in the league,” Hickey said. “He’s gone through stretches where nobody has gotten him the puck, but now things are starting to go his way. “I say we lost the momentum game, but we found a way to get it back. It was a good test for us and I am glad we came out on top.”
With a roster featuring a plethora of proven goal scorers, few leads are safe against the Penguins. Head coach Mike Sullivan employs a system dominated by speed, enabling his forwards to find open spaces and attack the net. Few teams possess the ability to keep their high-powered offense off the board and must match their firepower.
Thanks to quality efforts against the Flames and Penguins at home, the Islanders are slowly building momentum and putting behind the struggles of the prior month. Each win generates confidence and serves as a building block towards achieving their eventual goals.
“I don’t focus on the losses we had,” Capuano said. “The past is the past and we have to focus on what we can control, which is the 60 minutes of hockey and try to win 70 percent of those 60 minutes. If we can do that, we will give ourselves a chance if our goaltending and our special teams are good. If we do those things, we will have a chance.”