Islanders score late to dump Pens, 4-3
Kris Letang called it.
Several days before the start of this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series — one that's tied, 1-1, after the Penguins' 4-3 loss on Friday night at Consol Energy Center — Letang described how the eighth-seeded New York Islanders could hang with the favorites.
Letang reiterated some of those thoughts after Game 2.
“They played a quick game,” Letang said. “Their (defense) doesn't handle the puck that much. They just quick up and right back at us. We couldn't get any momentum.
“It's tough to play our game if you don't manage the puck well.”
A third-period goal by Islanders right winger Kyle Okposo broke a tie and completed a comeback that felt inevitable.
At first glance, the most telling statistic in the Islanders' favor was 42 — the number of shots they placed on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who coach Dan Bylsma admitted was “peppered.”
The Islanders attempted 79 shots, but 19 were blocked and 18 missed.
“Not all of them hit the net, but when you're throwing pucks in that area, you get bounces,” said Islanders left winger Matt Martin, referring to bounces that worked against Fleury and his backing-off defensemen.
“We earned the bounces we got by our hard work. That's why we came out on top.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby did not dispute that last part.
“We know we're better than that,” he said. “We have to have a little more desperation.”
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Penguins probably should try giving the Islanders' skilled forwards a little less space, too.
The Penguins raced to a 2-0 lead on goals by centers Evgeni Malkin and Crosby and held a 3-1 advantage on Crosby's second goal in his first game since March 30.
Nobody in the dressing room — one Fleury, the game after his sixth career postseason shutout, left visibly frustrated after tossing his leg pads against his locker stall — said the Penguins had earned those leads.
They barely earned the attendance of majority co-owner Ron Burkle, a multibillionaire who took in Game 2.
The Penguins' lack of execution — the absence of defenseman Brooks Orpik, their best blend of skating and physicality — was almost as alarming as their short memory.
“We should've kind of realized that we were lucky to have a lead and played with a lead instead of trying to get more,” Letang said.
He had warned before the series that chasing goals — something the Penguins did with no success last postseason in a first-round loss to Philadelphia — was a recipe for only building the Islanders' confidence.
“We felt real comfortable,” Islanders center John Tavares said.
They felt few hits — 28 from the Penguins, down from 36 in Game 1 — and the Islanders forced 11 giveaways.
The best-of-seven series shifts to Nassau Coliseum for two contests, resuming with Game 3 on Sunday afternoon.
“I'm not worried about Game 3,” Penguins right winger Pascal Dupuis said.
There is good reason not to worry, because the Penguins are 5-2 all-time in a series' third game under Bylsma.
However, they have lost in the last three playoffs to lower-seeded opponents — and if they cannot find a way to win at least one road game, that trend will continue.