Ironically enough on a day back in Western Pennsylvania with the first real blast of cold air, it felt a lot like spring for the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first two periods.
Given how things went for them in April in New York, that’s not a pleasant experience to re-live.
And yet, re-live it they did. In the game’s opening play very much reminiscent of the 2019 playoff sweep debacle, Casey Cizikas beat Sidney Crosby on the initial faceoff. The Penguins’ defensive structure fizzled and Cizikas somehow found himself all alone in front of the net, with plenty of time to corral a loose puck from behind the net and lift it over a helpless Matt Murray. Just 19 seconds into the game and the Pens were already in far too familiar a position: behind the eight-ball against the Islanders.
Pittsburgh would settle in and go onto out-shoot NYI 11-8 in the first period before confronting another feeling they knew all too well: a stingy Islander goalie. This year it’s Semyon Varlamov playing the role, and he played it well in the early going.
For a game that didn’t feature a penalty until deep into the second period, it looked like an opportunity for the Pens to get back on their feet when Nick Bjugstad drew a call. Unfortunately, on the opening power play face off (oh please stop me if you’ve heard this), Cizikas won a faceoff against Crosby, the puck swung around the wall. neither Jake Guentzel nor Evgeni Malkin moved their legs all that hard to get back in the play and Cal Clutterbuck scored on a 2-on-1 with Justin Schultz barely in the way. 2-0 NYI just like that.
Cal blessing us with this beautiful shorty! pic.twitter.com/mndFVetxeJ— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) November 8, 2019
It would get worse before it got better. Adam Pelech took a shot with Anders Lee and Jack Johnson tied up in front of the net, clearly affecting Murray who was craning his neck from side-to-side. Adam Pelech has plenty of space to shoot after Brandon Tanev and Teddy Bleuger collapse and the puck is in the net. Imagine that. 3-0 Islanders.
In another sentence that’s been written approximately 20 times this year — the Pens would out-shoot the Islanders by a wide margin in the period (15-8 this time), yet it was New York who scored two goals, to Pittsburgh scoring none.
But the Penguins were able to show signs of life in the third period, and unlike the spring games, not just fade away quietly without much fight. Jared McCann would strike under two minutes into the third period, with a nice net-front presence by Rust taking away Varlamov’s ability to see the incoming shot. 3-1.
The new lines (see more below) strike again after Murray makes a huge save, Rust streaks down the right side and his shot blows by Varlamov to make it 3-2.
Super speed. Super finish. pic.twitter.com/rUjNkaIN1v— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 8, 2019
The third member of that new “second” line, Evgeni Malkin, gets in the act. After Juuso Riikola’s point shot hits the post, Malkin finds the loose rebound before anyone else and backhand hacks it into the net and it’s a 3-3 game.
Showing off that signature 'sticktuitiveness' Coach Sullivan talks about. pic.twitter.com/Pd5GtojQsa— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 8, 2019
The Pens killed a penalty to force overtime, and it was a 3v3 format that favored NYI controlling the puck for much of it. Until anyways Malkin pressured a defender and got them squirming a bit, Rust jumped on it and dispossessed the puck from behind the net, quickly darting out to wrap around Varlamov and beat him to the far post. 4-3, Pens win.
The forechecking.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 8, 2019
The epic comeback.
We can't get enough. pic.twitter.com/WygHSLSiLa
Three final thoughts
Missing Letang. Schultz as a fill in for the injured Kris Letang was glaringly obvious and not in a good way with goals allowed 19 seconds into the game with a player left all alone at the right side of the net, and then early into the power play. That’s not to lay all the blame on Schultz, plenty to go around, but the bigger issue was that the Pens were not able to mask the absence of their No. 1 defenseman in any way, shape or form in this game and it stung in the critical moments early on.
Line changes change the game. After enduring the first 40 minutes and getting no goals, changes were in store for the third period. Alex Galchenyuk bumped up to the top line with Crosby and Guentzel, which, why not? McCann joined Rust and Malkin which paid off immediately and the two Dominik’s (Kahun and Simon) flanked Bjugstad with the fourth line remaining unchanged.
Obviously the kicker was finding lightning in a bottle with McCann going for three points in the third period after being moved to play with Malkin-Rust. McCann was the exact spark they needed after an, uhh, uneventful game from Galchenyuk might be the best word?
Streak breakers. The Islanders 10-game winning streak was broken. They were 10-0-0 when scoring three goals this season. 9-0-0 when winning after two periods. And they didn’t just score three goals and were winning after two, they were winning 3-0 after two. With all that context you can better appreciate just how monumental a third period multi-goal comeback by the Pens really was.
What looked like the same old PIT/NYI game from the spring had the script get flipped in a major way. Great job for the Pens, who have to be feeling very confident with the big win. The McCann-Malkin-Rust line obviously stepped way up, now it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it going.