The Penguins stick with the same personnel but shuffle the forward lines to put Jared McCann up with the Sidney Crosby / Jake Guentzel line, as well as reuniting Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
Just 35, Pittsburgh strikes with some authority as their first line finally gets a point. After a nice pinch by Kris Letang to keep possession, Crosby finds a wide-open Guentzel with a backhand pass. Guentzel wires a wrist shot short-side past Robin Lehner and PPG Paints explodes with the home team taking an emphatic 1-0 lead.
But, as has been a calling card this whole series, once the Pens score a goal it doesn’t take too long for the Islanders to respond in kind. And, of course, it’s Jordan Eberle scoring yet again on a two-on-one as the restul of a bad decision by Letang after pinching. Brian Dumoulin does no favors failing to stop Mathew Barzal’s backhand pass to Eberle, who calmly waits out Matt Murray and fires a shot over his shoulder perfectly to the top corner of the net. 1-1
A poor change results in the first penalty of the game, a too many men on the ice by Pittsburgh. Inexcusable this time of year. Jack Johnson hops over the boards and Erik Gudbranson (who was inching over towards the bench) suddenly turns to stay in the play. Can’t do that and this one is more on Gudbranson to not exit when he saw Johnson get on the ice.
Luckily the Pittsburgh PK is strong, with nice work done by Matt Cullen and Bryan Rust keeping the Islanders from getting much going for a while.
The Pens get their first power play when Barzal slashes Dumoulin in the shoulder/mouth, drawing some blood from the lip but only getting a two minute call. No shots on the power play and not too much zone time either to melt away a great chance.
And it comes back to bite them. The Isles dump the puck in deep and Tom Kuhnhackl checks Marcus Pettersson and collects the puck behind the net. Gudbranson over-commits to help, leaving the front of the net wide open as Brock Nelson cuts in. Josh Bailey is behind the net and hits Nelson with a pass for an easy chip in to give New York the lead at 2-1 with 1:54 left.
Shots in the period end up 10-7 for the Pens. Goals are 2-1 NYI though, and this game feels an awwwwful lot like the rest of the series, which is definitely not a great sign through 20.
The Pens are still digging but not doing much. Garrett Wilson tips a shot that hits the post.
Gudbranson falls into Murray for no reason which isn’t great, Murray slow to pull himself back up.
Guentzel draws the second Pittsburgh power play of the game when his old friend Kuhnhackl grabs a hold of him. Crosby with a glorious chance and a wide open net as Phil Kessel gives him a pass but Sid hits the post.
Patric Hornqvist is going all out trying to get something going, even tries to get in a fight with the goalie as they keep slashing and pushing each other. Hey, whatever it takes at this point. Somehow the Islanders get a power play after the scrum settles down. Pittsburgh kills the penalty
Shots in the second are 14-10 PIT, and 24-17 Pens overall. Still down 2-1 where it counts though with only one period left to save their season.
The Isles are shorthanded with Cal Clutterbuck and Johnny Boychuk suffering injuries in the second and not returning for the third.
Sullivan has put Dominik Simon up with Guentzel-Crosby and it draws a penalty with Simon feeding Sid for a high danger chance and Ryan Pulock has to take Crosby down. Pens get a third power play. One really good chance but a huge save by defenseman Scott Mayfield who is in the crease and blocks Kessel and Guentzel shots.
You just cannot make this up. What a save from Mayfield to deny the Penguins the equalizer pic.twitter.com/KkimjK9aIK— geor mormont (@G_Off817) April 17, 2019
After the penalty expires Nick Bjugstad takes an offensive zone penalty. The Pens kill it off but time is becoming the enemy at this point.
Pens pull the goalie, Crosby has a chance to shoot but passes. Zero shots on goal for Crosby in this game.
42 seconds left, the Pens lose an o-zone draw and Josh Bailey outmuscles Kessel and flings a puck 175 feet. Much like NYI the rest of the series, they just can’t miss as it hits the empty net. 3-1.
And that will be the curtain on the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins, who stumble out of the playoffs barely knowing what the hell just happened.
- Fans love to pile onto Letang for ill-advised pinches, but the pinch itself and being aggressive is very much a part of what the Pens want to do. The key is the decision of what happens WHEN he pinches that is what becomes problematic. He probably could have gotten the puck deep (though no forwards were likely to recover it). But he turned it over.
- Definitely the best and most inspired start to the game for the Pens of the whole series for the first 5-10 minutes, not that it ended up mattering too much. Shots were 7-1 PIT at one point, but that one for NYI was a goal. Just never could get ahead and stay there or minimize mistakes.
- Really rough first period for Gudbranson, played a part in a penalty, then displayed some of the bad instincts everyone feared he might on the second goal against. Add in basically running his own goalie for no reason in the second too. For a guy who has been largely serviceable/passable in a very sheltered role, another reminder that he’s more liability than actual contributing NHL player.
- Power play 0 for 3. Only one goal of the series. Just a huge turning point and let down for Pittsburgh. Had to get something more from them. HAD to. Didn’t. Got swept as a large result. They tried to tweak and put Guentzel on for Hornqvist, Justin Schultz on for Letang at times. Nothing worked.
- The lines were interesting, only once did Sullivan go to Malkin-Crosby-Kessel in the second period for a last minute offensive zone draw and a Malkin-Crosby-Guentzel with 7+ minutes left in the third. Otherwise Crosby wasn’t really around the other two big players at even strength. The adjustment made was to put Simon up on the top line.
- Crosby, no shots on goal. Kessel, on SOG. Malkin, two SOG. Just not enough from the big guys again. Tough to win like that.
And certainly plenty to digest, breakdown and think about in what will be another long summer to follow. Thanks to all for making it the best season we’ve ever had at Pensburgh, and of course, the season really never ends these days with season reviews, draft preparation with a first round pick (!!), free agency, trades and more. We’ll be here to talk about it all so hopefully you’ll stick around too.
But, a tip of the cap to the Islanders. For all the talk of which Penguin is to blame on every little aspect, sometimes the other team makes a play. The Pens ran into a fully cohesive squad dedicated to playing a tight system, backed by a magnificent goalie. Coached to perfection with skill players (Barzal, Eberle, Bailey, Nelson) making great passes and shooting lights out. That’s a way to win. And win they did. To our friends at Lighthouse Hockey, we tip a cap and (legitimately) wish the best of luck. May you have at least four more wins and continue to surprise the league. The success has been earned and is well-deserved.
Only one team can win it all, and it won’t be the Pens this year. The team had too many holes but to be out of the playoffs in four games, scoring only six goals, it’s a head-spinning event. The playoffs just started six days ago. And now for Pittsburgh, they’re over just like that.
Surely it will take some soul searching, changes and tough decisions to make it back.