The first-round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders switched to New York on Thursday. After splitting the first two games in Pittsburgh, the Islanders were looking to use the support of some 6,250 passionate fans to take command of the series over the top-seeded Pens. Semyon Varlamov earned his second straight start for New York after missing the series opener while recovering from an apparent injury suffered in the regular-season finale. The only other personnel change from Game 2 was the series debut of Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin, who entered the lineup at the expense of Evan Rodrigues. Malkin missed several stretches during the regular season and was a game-time decision in each of the first two games of the series.
The Penguins struck first, as they did in the previous game, and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to a Kris Letang goal about two minutes into the action. The scoring opened up further in the second period, with Scott Mayfield getting the Islanders even halfway through the period before Jeff Carter and Jason Zucker scored within five minutes of each other to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead after two.
The Islanders started strong in the third period, with Cal Clutterbuck finding the puck on the doorstep to put the Islanders within one. The ensuing Isles power-play saw Anthony Beauvillier tie the game with more than half the period left to play. Jeff Carter then found his second of the game on a Penguins power-play, which was later answered by Clutterbuck’s second tally of the evening.
Brandon Tanev deflected a point shot from Letang to put the Penguins up 5-4 with under four minutes to play; the Islanders’ best chance to tie it up was shut down by Sidney Crosby blocking a Brock Nelson shot with Tristan Jarry scrambling in his net. While unable to tie up the game for the fourth time on the night, the Isles have some work to do if they want to tie the series up at two games apiece when these two teams meet again Saturday afternoon.
One big positive for the Islanders in Game 3 was the support they got from the role players in their lineup. While some of the team’s top regular-season scorers continue to struggle early this postseason, unlikely goal scorers have emerged in key moments. Mayfield finished the game with a team-high three points, to go along with a plus-1 rating; he and his defensive partner Andy Greene were the only Isles defensemen to finish the game with a plus/minus above zero.
Clutterbuck’s line with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin finished with a plus-two rating apiece, with Cizikas picking up a primary assist on his winger’s first of two goals. They were able to generate turnovers on the forecheck and draw key penalties to swing momentum in the home team’s favor. This unit won’t be expected to contribute two goals every game, but winning puck battles and energizing the team should continue to be among their top contributions.
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While not a depth scorer, Mathew Barzal was finally able to earn his first points of the series, picking up primary assists on Mayfield’s goal as well as Beauvillier’s power-play marker. Coach Barry Trotz admitted after the game that Barzal’s performance in this one is a step in the right direction after a quiet first two games – the coaching staff and fans alike will hope Barzal can return to his highlight-reel-generating ways as this series rolls on.
The Islanders have been one of the best defensive teams in hockey for several seasons under Trotz, in large part due to their timely goaltending. This season has been no different, with both Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin stepping up to bail their teammates out in the event of the rare costly turnover. In this game, however, it seemed as though every time the Isles made a costly mistake, the puck ended up in the back of their net. All the blame for this can’t be placed on their goaltender, but with both goalies playing at such a high level, the bench boss has options heading into Game 4.
Sorokin played very well when thrust into action in Game 1, and could very well draw the start in Saturday’s matchup. Added attention also needs to be paid to the frequency of the Isles’ own-zone turnovers, specifically when trying to clear the zone. Two of the Penguins’ goals on Thursday were scored on failed zone clears, including Carter’s power-play goal that put the Pens up 4-3 in the third. That goal put pressure on the Isles late, and while they were able to find the equalizer, they eventually gave up the winner minutes later. Defensive improvements will be among the adjustments necessary in advance of Saturday’s matinee.
Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.