Islanders miss MacDonald in Game 5 loss
New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo made no promises of continued success when he declared before Game 5, “I thought we have been the better team the last three games.”
Maybe he knew better. Maybe he knew the Islanders are a different team — and are clearly at a disadvantage against the Penguins — without defenseman Andrew MacDonald.
With the reliably tough MacDonald out with a broken hand suffered Tuesday in Game 4, the Penguins had a bit more room to skate at Consol Energy Center in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference first-round series Thursday night. And they put the extra space to good use, scoring three times in a 6-minute, 35-second span of the second period on the way to a 4-0 victory and a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven series.
“Each game is a new game,” Okposo said prophetically.
The Penguins controlled play for most of the night.
“They tilted the ice on us,” coach Jack Capuano said, displeased his Islanders lost the forecheck battle. “We didn't make them come 200 feet.”
In the first four games, the Penguins had scored on 40 percent of their power plays (6 of 15, best in the NHL during the playoffs). But MacDonald's absence was enough, with each of the Penguins' second-period goals recorded at even strength.
Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic was missing more than a tooth in the middle of his upper bridge, revealing a prominent gap in his smile. He was missing MacDonald, his partner at the blue line.
“He is one of our shutdown guys,” Hamonic said. “He eats up a lot of hard minutes. We play against the top line. Those aren't easy minutes.”
MacDonald, who typically bothers Penguins center Sidney Crosby when the teams meet, was replaced by former Penguin Brian Strait.
Strait did knock the puck off Crosby's stick 10 minutes into the first period. But when Crosby sprinted alone toward Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the second period, after taking a pass from Jarome Iginla, there was no MacDonald to stop him.
“He blocks a lot of shots,” Hamonic said of MacDonald. “He has a great stick, and defensively he is really good and plays on our power play as well.”
The injury to MacDonald was a test of the Islanders' depth and ability to endure the rigors of a long series. MacDonald, after all, led his team in ice time this season (23:31).
Strait was on the ice for none of the first three Penguins goals, and Capuano laid most of the blame on his forwards.
“We didn't have the physical game we had the last few games,” he said.
But without MacDonald, there was no answer for the Penguins' skill on offense.
“We certainly miss him,” the Islanders' John Tavares said. “But we need guys to step up.”