Islanders outgun Penguins to tie series 2-2
Islanders forward Casey Cizikas scores on Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., May 7, 2013. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters)
Time is winding down on the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum as a home for NHL hockey, but the New York Islanders guaranteed there will be at least one more ear-splitting night of playoff action in the old barn.
There will be another night for a new generation of Islanders to give some long-suffering fans a chance to remember what it was like here in the spring when the Islanders were winning Stanley Cups 30 years ago.
The relentless Islanders, whom nobody gave much of a chance against the powerful, top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, guaranteed a Game 6 here Saturday with a stunning 6-4 win Tuesday night to tie their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal 2-2.
Game 5 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Islanders star John Tavares scored the winner at 10:11 of the third period, taking a pass from Brad Boyes and winding his way around Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik and forward Evgeni Malkin to tuck the puck in by beleaguered goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who had an awful night.
“It’s an old building, but this place gets rocking and these people are passionate, that’s for sure,” said Tavares of the Islanders fans who packed the Coliseum. “There are some great sports fans in New York and especially on Long Island and they care about their Islanders. We’ve got a big game Thursday, but we’re happy to know we’re going to be back here Saturday.
“It was amazing to see the place lit up like that. You saw people go crazy and I was just as happy as they were.”
The Islanders are moving to Brooklyn in two years, but they are making this playoff run here pretty memorable.
The two teams swapped the lead back and forth before Fleury coughed up another weak goal, again misplaying a puck emerging from behind the net, again on a play by the Islanders Kyle Okposo, to tie the game 2-2 near the end of the second period.
The Penguins took the lead in the third on a goal by Pascal Dupuis, but Islanders defenceman Mark Streit banked one in off the skate of Penguins defenceman Doug Murray to tie it and set the stage for Tavares’ winner 10:11 into the period.
This is starting to look a lot like last year’s first round series for the Penguins, who entered the playoffs with their usual high expectations and imploded against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“We haven’t played close to our best here,” said Orpik, who returned to the lineup after missing the first three games of the series. “They’re the main reason why.
“We’re turning pucks over. We turned it over on the game winner and five seconds later, it’s in our net. That’s what they do well. They wait for turnovers and they really good at coming right back at you. Especially that Tavares line.”
The Islanders are throwing four hard-working lines at the Penguins, owning the puck for most of the night and taking advantage of Fleury’s inconsistent play.
Each team enjoyed a couple of leads only to see the other team come back to steal it.
“We never gave up. We knew this was a big game for us. We wanted to get a win at home and play well and I thought we did that for the most part,” said Okposo. “They’re a good team and they’re going to get some chances. We didn’t quit and we found a way to win the game.”
“The passion of this team is unbelievable,” said Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. “We make mistakes, but there’s passion and the desire and the heart.”
There might have been doubt about what this Islanders team is made of before the playoffs.
There isn’t now.