The Pittsburgh Penguins walked into Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with momentum on their side and took a 2-1 series lead after defeating the New York Islanders by a score of 5-4, a game three thriller.
The Pens were provided with a boost on offense as Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup after missing games one and two with injury. The Russian forwards’ return saw him tally two assists in the game, playing just 12:10 minutes of ice-time. He slotted back into his usual position on the second line, centering Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen, a move that saw Jeff Carter drop back down to the teams’ third line, alongside Jared McCann and Frederick Gaudreau.
Coach Sullivan on Malkin’s return: “He had a great game tonight. I thought Geno made some plays, and that’s what he does for us. He has the ability to make plays most guys can’t. He has game-breaking ability.”
It was Carter, however, who stole the show in game three. The veteran forward scored twice, further proving his worth as one of the best deadline acquisitions of the year, and showing he can still compete and be a valuable asset to a contending team. Additionally, both teams finally generated power play success for the first time all series, as they traded power play goals at both ends of the rink.
An evenly matched first period between the two sides saw the Penguins strike first and head into the intermission with a 1-0 lead. Defenseman Kris Letang got the Pens on the board with the lone goal in the period. At 2:01 of the first, the star defenseman threw a point shot at the net and into traffic, beating Semyon Varlamov. The 34-year-old defenseman later added two assists and logged 24 minutes of ice-time, an overall very productive night for the Penguins’ number one defenseman.
The second period saw the Isles come to life after defenseman Scott Mayfield scored his second career playoff goal at the 11:03 mark, snapping a wrister from the left side, beating Tristan Jarry over the glove. However, just two minutes later, Jeff Carter came down the right wing boards and snapped a low wrister past the Isles netminder to restore the teams lead. Before the end of the period, Jason Zucker made it a 3-1 game after gaining possession of a bouncing puck in the slot, before using his quick hands and shot to surprise Varlamov, beating the Russian over the blocker.
The third period was one of the most entertaining of the series, and saw a lot of scrappy play between the two sides, along with a flurry of goals going both ways. The 6,800 fans on hand sounded more like a stadium at full capacity during this back-and-forth, nerve-racking period. The Isles scored back-to-back goals just minutes apart, first on a loose puck that was put into the wide-open net from Cal Clutterbuck, followed by a power play goal from Anthony Beauvillier, to tie the game up at three. At the 7:00 minute mark of the final frame, the Penguins responded with a power play goal of their own, coming courtesy of Jeff Carter, who walked in on Varlamov’s right side and beat him over the blocker on his short-side, once again giving the Pens the advantage. However, the resilient Isles refused to give up. Their physicality and persistent forecheck finally paid off as Clutterbuck netted his second of the period, deflecting a point shot off his body, and past Jarry to once again level the playing field.
Goal-scorer Jeff Carter on settling in: “To be honest with you, I didn’t really know where I was going to fit in. As I’ve settled in and played with some different lines, I’ve really enjoyed my role. It’s been a real easy group to come into.”
On game three: “It was a bit of a rollercoaster tonight. All hell kind of broke loose there, but we stuck with it. You give one up, you get right back on the horse and keep working.”
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Throughout the game, it seemed as though the Penguins always had an answer for every Isles move that shifted momentum in their favor, and that trend was not about to change. Late in the third period, Pens forward Brandon Tanev scored the dagger on a rebound that he batted out of the air and into the back of the Isles net, a game-winning goal to give the Penguins their first lead of the series, despite being out-hit and out-shot in game three.
“Obviously with how the period went, it’s a whirlwind of emotions and your adrenaline’s pumping. I saw the puck come off Tanger’s stick and was fortunate enough to get a bounce in our direction off their goaltender.” Said Tanev about his game-winning goal.
This series has undoubtedly been an exciting and high-spirited matchup between these two rivals. As this tough battle continues to progress, tempers have begun to flare and ultimately boiled over in the third period, seeing all 10 players on the ice sent to the box for roughing. The rough stuff will surely continue as the series intensifies, and desperation starts to kick in for both sides.
Game four of the series will be Saturday afternoon at 3PM EST at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum where the Penguins look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead and put the Islanders’ backs against the wall headed back to Pittsburgh.