THIRD PERIOD: Islanders 4, Penguins 1
It comes down to chances.
When the Penguins got theirs, they missed.
Sidney Crosby had the puck behind the net and slid a pass to Jake Guentzel at the bottom of the left circle. Guentzel fired a shot off the left shoulder of Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, popping his mask loose in the process.
When the Islanders got theirs, they scored.
When Penguins Justin Schultz tried to flip the puck through the neutral zone, the Islanders knocked it down and went on the offensive. Jack Johnson tried to stop it, but couldn’t control the puck and backed into position.
But Valtteri Filppula saw Leo Komarov open in the right circle and sent a pass that was redirected by Anthony Beauvillier in the slot. Johnson was caught in the middle, and Komarov sent a shot past Matt Murray to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead at 10:27.
It was Komarov’s first goal since Jan. 20. The Islanders’ third line has scored twice as many goals as the Penguins’ top line, as unimaginable as that sounded at the start of this series.
That took the air out of the crowd at PPG Paints and, perhaps, left the Penguins deflated. They didn’t steal one of the first two games at Nassau Coliseum. They couldn’t win on home ice, either.
Now, the Penguins are on the brink of elimination.
And running out of chances.
SECOND PERIOD: Islanders 2, Penguins 1
The storyline of this series has been how the Islanders have kept Sidney Crosby and his linemates off the score sheet through the first nine periods, including overtime.
The mystery has been why coach Mike Sullivan and his Penguins teammates maintain that even though Crosby has yet to score a point, he has been dominant at times.
That was evident in a second-period sequence that started with goalie Matt Murray under siege. Jake Guentzel blocked a shot, then collected the puck while on his knees and directed a pass to Dominik Simon.
Simon got the puck through the neutral zone, then sent it along the boards to Crosby. With an Islanders defender draped on him, Crosby cycled from the left circle to the right. Even when the puck slipped from his stick, Crosby kicked it right back to his blade without breaking stride.
Then he slid a pass to Guentzel, who was set up to score.
When Guentzel mistimed it, the PPG Paints Arena crowd let out an audible gasp. They saw a beautiful play go for naught and a golden opportunity get away without a goal.
Crosby was dominant, but didn’t get a point.
And that’s a storyline on the brink of a bad ending if the Penguins don’t come up with a plot twist soon.
FIRST PERIOD: Islanders 2, Penguins 1
Now this was what you call a true “game-time decision.”
When the starting lineup was announced, it included a surprise. Alongside Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Marcus Pettersson was Jared McCann.
After taking a cross-check to the back from Cal Clutterbuck in his Stanley Cup playoffs debut in Game 1, McCann missed Game 2 with an upper-body injury.
That forced the Penguins to juggle their lines, as Zach Aston-Reese moved to the second line and Teddy Blueger replaced him on the fourth line. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan juggled them again for Game 3, moving Dominik Simon to the top line to help generate scoring from Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
That might sound like a backwards approach, given that Simon has only one goal and seven assists since Jan. 19. But he’s been adept this series at handling the forecheck and moving the puck.
But McCann scored 11 goals and had six assists for the Penguins since Feb. 1 after being acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers.
If Crosby and Guentzel don’t get going soon, moving McCann to the top line should be Sullivan’s next move.